Molly Davies’ wonderfully quirky and twisted tale of witchcraft, superstition, fractured families and agricultural angst is already causing quite a stir. Here’s a selection of the ‘chicken buzz’ so far.
View a storify about the show here….
— Eastern Angles (@easternangles) August 10, 2015
**** (four stars) The Scotsman
To TAKE bloody revenge on a dystopian society in the aftermath of a fundamental change in the British state. Not a joke – though there are some darkly comic scenes – but the premise of an intriguing new play by Molly Davies, the most recent, and first female, winner of the Royal Court Theatre’s Pinter Commission award.
It’s set in an undefined future when Scotland, the north of England and East Anglia have seceded from the rump of Britain, while London has become a hellhole (make your own “what’s new about that” gag here), forcing every citizen to choose whether to permanently settle down south or return to their home territory.
There are a lot of interesting ideas fizzing around – regional identity, the politics of food production, repression of female power – in this beautifully staged and well-performed work, which is played out in the round on a floor gradually covered with chicken feathers (those with allergies are warned at the door), which vividly represent the unspoken violence of this society.
But unlike 90 per cent of the Fringe, its 50-minute length is too short: just as those ideas are coming together in an exciting way, it ends. It feels a little like the first draft of something that will be a magnificent 90-minute work. However, what’s there at present is still great.
**** (four stars) Exeunt Magazine
One of our more detailed reviews came from Alice Saville of Exeunt Magazine (read more here)
Playwright Molly Davies’s striking pastoral dystopia is a play that’s completely of its time. The fear of technology which produced 1984 and Brave New World is waning, replaced by nature as a new adversary, terrifyingly unpartisan in its elemental violence….the humour is underpinned by an astonishingly subtle discussion of identity politics that simmers through this play’s every scene. Beth Cooke as the returning Layla is visibly hungry, wide-eyed and embracing a new life and its man-sized dangers. She’s enthralled by local chicken slaughterer Harry (Benjamin Dilloway) even as he mocks her accent and advances. Layla’s flirtation with him is an awkward, dangerous tour de force that mixes small talk and veiled threats of feather plucking and electric shocks…. Steven Atkinson’s direction excels in powerful images of uncontrived symbolism: Harry silences Layla by slinging her over his shoulder like a chicken on a truss…..We never quite glimpse the hinted-at terrors of the coming revolution: a new dark age, defined by a wide tempestuous sea and only the most fragile pockets of what came before. But even if the full folk horror of Molly Davies vision isn’t realised, what we’re shown is more than enough to set our eyes swimming.
**** (four stars) The Stage
Peculiar, elusive, but occasionally just a bit magical, Molly Davies’ haunted dystopia pictures an England of fracturing counties, where community has fallen apart and nature is turning the tables on man. Set in and around a chicken slaughtering plant, there is a beauty in its evocation of an East Anglia where the old ways are returning in new and frightening forms…… It is less preachy, but no less political, than Davies’ God Bless this Child at the Royal Court, and it sees her finding a distinctive and intriguing voice.
There is strong work from the entire cast in Steven Atkinson’s straw-strewn production, but Rosie Sheehy is particularly impressive as the young girl who begins to tune into an ancient and dangerous frequency. Interspersed with English folk songs, there is something appealingly pagan about Chicken. It is a vision of the countryside that blasts rustic charm with the suggestion of ancient powers ascendant, a rural gothic, with its greatest strength lying in its weird intangibility.
**** (four stars) The Telegraph
It’s easy to see why Molly Davies’s won the Pinter Commission 2015 (the first female playwright to do so). Chicken is a muscular, punchy Caryl Churchill-esque 45 minutes that meshes witchcraft, gothic horror, folk music and the mass slaughter of chickens all against a rural Norfolk backdrop. There’s something about Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem in the way the play embraces myth and folklore that’s become buried in the modern world. While the darkly humorous ending (spoiler: don’t trust the chickens) doesn’t quite hit the spot, this is a bold and exciting piece of work.
This mini review appeared in The Telegraph’s – Edinburgh Theatre What to See
**** (four stars) To Do list
A delightfully quirky foray into an alternate reality where the United Kingdom isn’t quite so united – and chickens are just for special occasions…
Molly Davies’ new play imagines a future where North and South have divided, and East Anglia is on the brink of its own independence. Chickens are suddenly a very valuable commodity – but how do they feel about it all?
An entertaining fiction which combines – improbably – witchcraft, poultry husbandry, and dysfunctional families.
Read more here
**** (four stars) TV Bomb
this is a modern fairytale in which the narrative flows through the familiar territory of contemporary society (struggles for jobs, lack of housing) and meanders into fantasy. The juxtaposition of focussing the action around industrialised poultry production in a script filled with such lyrical love for green spaces evokes an image of Blake’s “dark Satanic Mills”. One scene describing how the birds are manacled onto a conveyer-belt before being slaughtered, hints at a swollen populace chained to employment before they too die.
Despite the fantastical elements, there’s a fragile emotion in the characters – compellingly performed by all the cast – giving the story a human quality and making it easy to relate to their situation. Steven Atkinson’s production is a humorous but thoughtful folkloric examination on the effect we are having on our surroundings that questions whether we want things to change.
— Matthew Linley (@MatthewLinley) August 9, 2015
*** (three stars) Edinburgh 49
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. ..
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….. I can see fans of dark comedy latching onto it with eager claws.
*** (three stars) The Skinny
Chicken is nightmarish and strange, giving the audience an impression of the essence of East Anglia, while at the same time containing a dark undercurrent of teenage mental illness. There are many interesting strands, which somewhat frustratingly are not pushed to their full potential or linked together coherently. However, given the fragmented nightmare style tone of the play, this does not do too much damage. Given its lack of a strong storyline, it feels more like an atmospheric piece, yet still interesting to watch.
Read The Skinny’s round up (sic) of the full roundabout programme here
— Emily Dixon (@EmilyKateDixon) August 27, 2015
— Emily Dixon (@EmilyKateDixon) August 27, 2015
@EasternAngles Chicken. Fascinating, all too brief glimpse into a different UK. Talented cast should be plucked from obscurity. (Sorry.)
— Penny Barr (@PennyJBarr) August 27, 2015
— Eastern Angles (@easternangles) August 24, 2015
@easternangles go see chicken at summerhall edfest more than just straw and feathers much more
— neil d beaty (@mrb_fungi) August 23, 2015
— Linden Bicket (@LindenBicket) August 22, 2015
— Janet Hampson CDG (@janethampson) August 22, 2015
And Chicken by Molly Davies at Summerhall – I really, really liked it. Not everyone will but it’s a Caryl Churchill-esque little wriggler
— Chris Bennion (@PigLimbedViking) August 8, 2015
— Chapters of Chekhov (@AbsoluteChekhov) August 10, 2015
— Barnaby Southgate (@Barny_Southgate) August 11, 2015
— Radical Departures (@Rad_Departures) August 8, 2015
— Matthew Linley (@MatthewLinley) August 7, 2015
Chicken by @easternangles brings together past, present and a dystopian future in which chickens could rule the roost. Intriguing and fun!
— Allan Wilson (@allanbw2) August 7, 2015
— Marine Theatre (@marinetheatre) August 9, 2015
— Hassina Khan (@HassinaAtWork) July 31, 2015
So @easternangles have best pre show warning of year so far…This show contains straw and feathers, allergy suffers should avoid front row.
— Glen Pearce (@Glenpearce1) August 1, 2015
— Eastern Angles (@easternangles) August 10, 2015
Chicken is directed by Steven Atkinson (who has also directed Lampedusa, coming to Unity in September), with design by James Turner, lighting by Elliott Griggs and sound by George Dennis. It runs until 30 August, tickets and further info here.
I’ve written about the development of Chicken on the blog before, see here – and about the fantastic programme this year at Summerhall here.