Edinburgh Fringe 2015
People always seem to leave East Anglia, never to return. The only thing growing in East Anglia seems to be the chicken population. That and people with an unhealthy interest in the occult.
My next door neighbour has chickens. She’s also got geese, pigs and the latest addition are quail which are now flapping around in the garden but it’s the chickens that dominate. I’ve lost count of how many there are, but there must be five or six times as many of them around these days as there are of us humans.
Summerhall has chickens as well. Or at least a play about them. Their wonderfully appointed Roundabout theatre is onomatopoeic, a circle of steeply ranked seats around an open stage which looks capable of hosting anything from a circus to a play like this one, set in a chicken yard, complete with lots of straw for the chickens to forage in. We’re in deepest East Anglia, a place people often leave (and rarely seem to return to), at a point in a dystopian future where people from the north and south are alienated from one another, London sits above the chaos as a sovereign state and the world as we know it today has been twisted to a point where communities collide, families are fractured and the agricultural idyll is distorted beyond recognition.
Molly Davies’ dark, occasionally comic, new play opens with an ethereal, haunting folk song as a shadowy figure of Emily (Rosie Sheey) drifts around the stage, witch like in movement and demeanour, spelling out portents of doom and destruction to come. Cue a switch to the local chicken shed where old hand Lorraine (Josephine Butler) and trainee Layla (Beth Cooke) are laying down bedding at the chicken farm. The discussion centres on the habits of chickens, and the fact that they are a vital part of the East Anglian economy, supporting the lives of most of those in employment. In fact, chickens seem to be everywhere these days, with chicken farms stretching as far as the eye can see across the flat, unending landscape. Apparently, there are six times as many chickens as there are humans on the planet, and they seem intent on taking over the world, at least according to the couple working in these chicken sheds.
As the piece progresses, so we get deeper into the complex familial issues swirling around in the mist of the fens. The forces of darkness are all around and the evils of witch-craft appear to be ensnaring the few people left in this isolated community as the night of separation (presumably from what is left of the rest of the UK) approaches.
The piece comes to a juddering conclusion in a blaze of darkness and noise, leaving us all looking a little bemused, worried perhaps that the forces of darkness will be tapping us on the shoulder sometime soon.
Even though it feels a bit like a work-in-progress, this play is probably worth a look for its excellent acting, interesting sound and lighting and innovative setting. But we could have done with a bit more “plot signposting” at times, just to help us understand who was doing what to whom and what the overall point was to the piece. There were a few folks scratching their heads as they left, suggesting it’s not just this critic who was a little perplexed.
Meantime I’m going back to check on next door’s chickens. There seem to be ever growing numbers of the darned things and they seem to be straying ever more frequently into my back yard.