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Edinburgh Fringe 2018

The Search for a Black-Browed Albatross

The Backpack Ensemble in association with The Lincoln Company

Genre: Devised, Family, Puppetry

Venue: Pleasance Dome


Low Down

Coat? Check. Tent? Check. A father’s lifelong ambition to complete? Check. Charlie is about to embark on the journey that her late father never did. To find the one bird that had eluded him, to rekindle their lost relationship.


The Backpack Ensemble is exactly that – an ensemble of five actors and one musician, each carrying a backpack containing the entire show. They tell their story about Charlie, who wants to find this special bird, and that Charlie is very determined for special reasons. At first it looks like they are going camping, but after introducing the story directly to the audience, they unpack their props on the go and create a wondrous world of the outdoors – and Charlie, starts her journey.

Charlie’s story is about childhood memories, adventure and loss of a loved one – told with sensitivity and sincerity and imagination.

All actors – Samantha Miles, James Ashfield, Elliot Sargent, Simon Panayi, and Laura Potente – narrate and play different characters, with music played live by Jordan Shiel. The devised piece is detailed and well crafted. Rich imagery is evoked from the text by narration, characters, spoken dialogue, physical acting and shadow puppets. The arc of the play is well developed and every moment has clarity and is meaningful.

There is simplicity in the fact that Charlie is the main character and events are focused on her, however, the ensemble is switching between characters and creating the shadow effects. Some shadows are illustrations in black ink, some are actors in shadow or shadow puppets for people, landscape and more. A white sheet on tent poles becomes a shadow screen and various other packable items become everything else. Innovative scene changes are rapid and are very effective. An eco theme develops briefly, which is very interesting.

Highs and lows, conflict, loss and being lost are explored, which adds depth and meaning to Charlie’s life. Dialogue and commentary is real and is sprinkled with fascinating colourful details and metaphors about the characters and situations Charlie encounters.

All of the actors are excellent, they narrate flawlessly with clarity, humanity and emotion and seamlessly jump into character or collaborate creating the shadow imagery and puppetry. Objects transform into new ideas in front of our eyes and everyone is involved in creating sound effects!

Playwright Samantha Miles and Director Simon Panayi, together with the other members of the performance and devising ensemble have created a poignant well-crafted story that resonates universally. It is also told very imaginatively and well performed. In all, this is an excellent show and as this is the first show from this company we hope to have the opportunity to see more from them in the future.