Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

As we queue to go in to Chicken, the guy on the door gives us a strange warning. ‘If you’re allergic to straw or chicken feathers, don’t sit in the front row,’ he says. As it happens, we’re not, but this must count as a first, even for the Fringe.

Set in a near future dystopia on the Eve of ‘the separation’ – when East Anglia declares it’s independence from the rest of great Britain – the play is an examination of folklore, superstition and ‘Nationalism.’ Emily (Rosie Sheehy) works at a Tesco store, but she has a reputation for not speaking much, preferring instead to sing traditional folk songs and visit the places where witches used to be ‘swum.’ Her father, Harry (Benjamin Dilloway) and Mother, Lorraine (Josephine Butler) both work at a nearby chicken farm (hence the straw and feathers strewn liberally around the stage). Into this setting comes a ‘returner’, Layla (Beth Cooke), who having tried her luck in London has come back to her home town and is eager to reconnect with old crush, Harry. But he’s been dehumanised by his years of organising the slaughter of chickens on a massive scale. Chickens (along with bicycles) are now East Anglia’s biggest export. Meanwhile, Emily seems to be planning something very strange indeed…

The play is beautifully acted by all the cast, but we were somewhat distracted by a noisy fan that blew a stream of cool air into the theatre, making much of the dialogue hard to follow. It was happily dispensed with for the final third, which helped enormously; but I have to admit I found it hard to swallow the play’s conclusion or to feel at all terrorised by the prospect of marauding chickens attacking a family home.

This is a decent play with an intriguing premise. Just make sure you sit well away from that pesky wind machine!

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney


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