"I might be the first Jewish parrot,” muses comedian Gareth Berliner.
Berliner 48, plays the avian component in the pantomime Pirate and Parrot, his lockdown project with his wife, Kiruna Stamell. The couple originally toured the show in 2014, before putting the characters to bed “with the hope that one day we could dust them off”.
Now, the show has been reimagined to provide children with entertainment during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We want to give them an opportunity to think about the pandemic with their parents after each episode or talk about the situation, because Pirate and Parrot are stuck on a tiny island,” says Berliner.
Shot on their mobile phones from their Birmingham kitchen, with help from the Red Earth Theatre in Derbyshire, the characters that dance around in colourful costumes against a sheet blue-sky background are a curious mirror of the couple that created them.
“It is about two people who don’t quite fit,” he says. Both of them face physical challenges: Berliner has Crohn’s disease and Short Gut Syndrome and Stamell has dwarfism. What’s more, they are stuck on their own desert island, shielding for 19 weeks so far, to protect Berliner’s health. “Pirate and Parrot have an interesting relationship in that Pirate has no friends, she only cares about gold. Parrot is very intelligent and only wants a friend, but couldn’t find a pirate because he is so big,” he explains. In a muffled whisper in the background, Stamell, currently unwell in bed, adds: “Pirate is so small she doesn’t care, as she didn’t fit in either.”
Berliner is best known for his role as Macca in Coronation Street and Stamell was performing in Cyrano de Bergerac with James McAvoy in the West End until lockdown. In isolation, their tiny apartment has been a window “out on to anywhere we can imagine.”
Berliner grew up in Gants Hill in “the most stereotypically cab-driver Jewish area”; Stamell, who isn’t Jewish, has learnt how to make challah in lockdown.
They have become popular on social media giant TikTok and are hoping to use their platforms to educate those around them about disability and be role models for children.
Producing their own content from home has been an “empowering” experience, he says.
“We have control over this and we have fun doing it, Artistically and for our mental health, we had to have a project to throw ourselves into, with a new script, new stories.
“Fortunately, it worked and hopefully we can carry it forward as a bigger production when we get off this pandemic-island.”