“Cerebral and exhaustingly intense”
The act of waking up dazed and confused, often by a strangely realistic half dream, comes under the medical umbrella term of “parasomnia”. I say this because upon leaving the hay-strewn, smoke wreathed tent in which I saw writer Molly Davies’ dark comedy “Chicken”, I felt a very similar sensation. I was impressed, dazed, and confused as all hell.
“Chicken” takes place in a dystopian future (though, as someone from the north can tell you, the themes are very much contemporary) in which the north and south of Britain have become so alienated from each-other that they are formally separating. In East Anglia, witchcraft and politics threaten to tear rural life apart – especially the town’s most precious export: chickens.
First thing’s first: the tech in this show was absolutely beautiful. The concerted use of blackouts, swells and musical stings to make one character seemingly materialise horror-esque on stage was the tip of what proved to be a technically marvellous iceberg. If you’re looking for inspiration for your next horror show, look no further than the chattering, eerie soundscapes and moody lights programmed by Elliot Griggs and George Dennis.
There was also some very strong acting talent on display: Benjamin Dilloway shone as gruff, masculine Harry, and Rosie Sheehy absolutely stole the show as Emily, the town’s resident Wiccan; often silent, but with a stage presence which spoke louder than an exploding tannoy speaker. There were no weak links in this cast, all of whom lent gritty humanity to an otherwise bafflingly surreal setup.
However, although this show was billed as a dark comedy, I was often confused as to whether to laugh or simply sit there in confused silence. There were moments which were genuinely humorous, but most of it was spent pondering whether the strange spectacle unfolding in front of me was meant to be ridiculous or harrowing. And whilst it could be argued that is the very point, which I would be fully apt to admit I may have missed, it sometimes lent itself to a muddled rather than complementary pairing.
And this was not helped by a script which occasionally felt clunky and forced in its weaker moments, especially when compared to the uncanny naturalism of dialogue at stronger points. Characters would mingle rural vernacular with oddly robotic cadence and non-foreshortened speech on occasion, which was jarring.
This is a show which requires time and attention to enjoy properly, and an appreciation for subtle, rather than explicit humour. Although short, it’s cerebral and exhaustingly intense ride. And while it’s shortcomings meant it could not grab me as I think it should have, I can see fans of dark comedy latching onto it with eager claws.
Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 8 August)
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