OFS reviewer and volunter usher Lucy saw Learning To Fly in September 2022.

Originally, I wasn’t going to write a review. With my life descending into a black hole of appointments, assessments and errands, I thought I wouldn’t have time. Or if I did, that I wouldn’t have the mental space to write it and so it was best to not bother. That may or may not be true, but this for definite is: on 14 September 2022 at The Old Fire Station theatre, commencing at about 8pm, James Rowland performed the newest(ish?) incantation of Learning to Fly, which is currently touring and maturing(?) throughout the UK. This isn’t quite a review, but more a half page homage to theatre that is inspirational and uplifting.

If you’ve not seen anything by James Rowland (yet), I’m saying you could rectify that and it would be like participating in some prodigious occupational therapeutic group that actually… did something. In an hour (or so). I am only basing this off a measly two shows, but in both instances I believe my life improved as a result of watching them. It is the kind of theatre that makes you strive to be a better person. Not by banging on at you, but it somehow just does. It is packed with emotional honesty, kindness and compassion. It’s like curiosity, conversation and a hug from a friend. It is non-judgemental and as open as music. It is collapsing into giggles so total they’re a work-out. It’s a flood of endorphins from a wellspring that’s natural.

Rowland tells a damn good story. It stays with you. It connects. He uses music in innovative and whimsical ways. He is unique, upbeat and engaging. As amiable as a sagacious teddy bear; he is frolicsome and fanciful, convivial and vital.

Learning to Fly tells the story of a sad and sickly boy and a Beethoven-loving old witch who develop an unlikely but edifying friendship in the outskirts of Manchester. It features “mild references to mild references to drugs” (Edinburgh Fringe Festival) and looks at growing up (and getting out) and the great power of (classical) music. It is massively insightful to often hilarious effect and takes us on a roller-coaster of emotional resonance and, like, empathetic response. It gives us ecstasy. It gives us humanity. It gives us essential truth (or the essence of something inexplicable and intangible but real?)

It is theatre that refreshes. It makes you laugh out loud. It grabs you and grips you up and lavishes you in song, satiates you in feeling and pours mounds of quirk and value at your feet.