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‘Marvin’s Binoculars’ review

  • Theatre, Children's
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Marvin’s Binoculars, Unicorn Theatre, 2022
Photo by Manuel Harlan

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A sweet but deceptively deep kids’ play about a young birdwatcher

Next to the virtuosic stagecraft of the Unicorn’s recent smash ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Marvin’s Binoculars’ is an almost startlingly traditional piece of kids’ theatre. 

Still, beneath the superficial simplicity of Hannah Quigley’s production – written by Unicorn boss Justin Audibert – there’s a lot going on, just very subtly.

‘Marvin’s Binoculars’ follows – you guessed it – Marvin (Daniel Braimah), who gets a pair of – wait for it – binoculars for his ninth birthday. On an assignment for school to draw a map of somewhere special to him, he takes new classmate Sita (Rose-Marie Christian) down to the local marsh where they go for a good twitch, spotting bitterns and newts and hunting the elusive black redstart.

On a certain superficial level there’s not a whole lot more going on than that: the play is virtual bird watcher propaganda, as Mike Winship’s lush sound design and Samuel Wyer and Constance Canavarro’s colourful abstract sets take us into the marsh, where Marvin’s enthusiasm for the various feathered rarities of the swamp wins over the initially sceptical Sita (and us too).

More subtly it’s a play about grief. Marvin’s beloved grandmother has just died, and the birdwatching is a connection to her - the case of the binoculars has a dedication from her in it, written from her deathbed. Audibert’s play never lectures or over-explains, but it’s about a young boy processing grief, who finds solace in birdwatching.

Perhaps even more subtly, it’s a play about racism and prejudice. Marvin is Black, and there are references to Black artists – Basquiat, Angelou – encoded in Wyer’s set that most kids in the target six-to-11 audience will have to ask their parents about. They’re never discussed, and seem a world away from this bucolic English bog, but contribute to a gentle reinforcement of Marvin’s identity that comes to a head when his prize binoculars fall into the hands of Marie Blount’s sour-faced park warden. A middle-aged white lady, she never says anything directly about Marvin’s race, but when she repeatedly says that ‘boys like you’ don’t have nice pairs of binoculars or an interest in birds then it’s extremely apparent what she means. Or at least, it is to an adult – the play’s deliberate gentleness makes it a great conversation starter, rather than a lecture. You can use it to talk to your kids about grief, prejudice and some great canonical Black artists. Or you can leave it as a fun adventure story about a couple of young pals who go birdwatching. 

So yes, ‘Marvin’s Binoculars’ is a trad kids’ show and proud of it. But beneath its sweet, simple exterior, its waters run very deep.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


£16, £10 kids. Runs 1hr
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