THEATRE REVIEW: Learning to Fly at Sheffield Playhouse

SOMETIMES theatre, like the universe, can create something magical out of nothing.

And so it is with James Rowland’s wonderful piece tackling childhood, loneliness, drugs, mental health, Beethoven, friendship — anything and everything.

Rowlands, in vest and jogging bottoms, transforms himself into a brilliant storyteller.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Funny, challenging, emotional stuff — with a bit of ecstasy along the way —he goes to places you are not expecting to go, even if maybe more of the outside world would make it less inward-looking.

Learning To Fly dates from when he was aged between 11 and 14 living on a cul-de-sac in Didsbury, Manchester.

It’s about the woman down his street who he regards as a scary witch.

His Mum arranges to leave him alone once a week with this neighbour, called Anne, who has clearly stated she doesn't like boys.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He’s hardly ever left his house — or even his bed — to go to school because of health issues, so he dreads it.

But after an uneasy few weeks, one day the “light goes on” and after a toilet mishap, they become friends and he goes round every week for the next few years.

Her love of music — never mind strong tea and Daily Telegraph cryptic crosswords — sees Beethoven’s Ninth Choral Symphony become the soundtrack to a boy growing up.

Rowland is an engaging, if unlikely looking, performer.

Even before the actual show starts, he chats away as he welcomes the audience — a brave thing to do for any actor.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But he is always in control, with funny, questioning asides and jokes as the story slowly unfolds.

We listen to the music with him on a small portable player — the only prop on view in the empty space — and hear his passion for it.

Rowland’s journey aspires to soar to the Milky Way and beyond.