Hungarian Bird Festival review

10 Feb 2001 | Paul Bright-Thomas

This was a bold attempt to bring a comedy centred around a minority pursuit to a wider audience, married with some touching observations and a snappy and intelligent humour. It can be categorised as nothing other than a success.

The "show" was a one-man performance, with comedian, improvisational specialist and actual pukka birder Niall Ashcroft playing all the participants in a Wildwings birding holiday in Hungary, including his rather overbearing father. The play did not just address the psychology, sociology and humour inherent in serious birding (it would have to be serious birding to make me spend a week with a bunch of strangers), but also delved into the father-son relationship, and the nature of a deep interest in, and love of, well, nature. Non-birding audience members were welcomed and their fears of jargon and in-jokes assuaged from the outset.

The caricatures of the group members were excellent, including the 82 year-old lady from Florida who gripped everyone on Eagle Owl when unable to keep up with the group, the wise Hungarian pygmy who knew where the bustards were, and the super-efficient German, who settled a wader ID at 400m with something top-secret from the Leica labs. The joy of sharing a small motel room with a sonorously snoring senior was brought into our lives, and the patronising attitude of the tour leader was bang on.

But the caricatures didn't stop with the humans in the story ... the personifications of the birds involved were superb, and demonstrated the Niall Ashcroft's skill in putting himself into the skin of just about anything; the portrayals incldued the dotterel that was forever halting to remember something from the day before, the stately Great Bustard, and the uncanny 2-minute performance of Eagle Owl swallowing a cat, which was superb (the cat was quite likeable, but I'm sure we all sided with the Owl). My favourite was a Little Bittern that was convinced of its camouflage skills ... I was tempted to tick it on the basis of Niall's incarnation. Quite simply the best animal performances I have seen since Billy Connolly's lions-hunting-wildebeest routine.

The emotional heart of the play was the insights brought by time spent in the company of an ageing father, with the play's close bringing us full circle to the inherited joy in nature orignally sparked by an abundant home library, and encapsulated in one image of a bird which the author had cherished since childhood, surely a sentiment many can identify with.

I strongly recommend everyone to seek out the opportunity to enjoy this excellent piece of theatre.

© 2001 Paul Bright-Thomas