2014 Referendum, Benjamin Dilloway, Beth Cooke, Edinburgh Fringe, Hipsters, Josephine Butler, Molly Davies, Nationalism, Norfolk, Rosie Sheehy, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism, Summerhall, Theatre Review
How dare they! An English theatre company cannot come to Edinburgh, where there are all sorts of complex, sophisticated ideas about nationalism, and put on a play such as this! It is outrageous!
So this afternoon we are back at the Summerhall, a remote exploratory colony which has been seemingly planted here by visitors from Shoreditch. You think that “hipsters” only exist on the internet until you come to a place such as this, where they are everywhere, like lice swarming in a mouldy old beard. What makes these people hipsters? I was thinking about this on the way back from the venue. It is not the beards, not the white afros, not the snappy art-school intensity, not necessarily the “artisan” craft ale which has been brewed in tiny batches on the moon by authentic extraterrestrials. It is the fact that everybody is so old. Look at the stoops, the thinning hair, the grime ingrained under the eyes. When I walk in, I am carrying all of the sobering weight of the early thirties, but by the time I reach the Royal Dick bar I am positively floating and back to my boyish self. I must come here more often!
They want to keep out all of the ignorant plebs and so, as a salvo in the Summerhall’s class war, the ticket for “Chicken” costs sixteen pounds. This type of insolence is, I have heard, quite routine here.
The play may not be worth sixteen pounds but it is still unexpectedly quirky and fun. It is also, in the eyebrow that it raises at Scottish nationalism, somewhat rude. Thank goodness that none of the Nats are bound to find it in here.
The play is written by Molly Davies, the first female writer to win the Pinter Commission, and both she and the company hail from East Anglia. “Chicken” is set in an apparent dystopia in which the UK has broken up and Norfolk has become a sovereign state. Moreover, Norfolk has developed its own nationalism, in exactly the same way as Scotl…. no, I didn’t even think that. You cannot compare Scotland, a proud ancient nation with its own culture and literature, and Norfolk, a proud ancient region with its own culture and literature.
Er, you do follow?
Luckily, it is easy to distinguish Norfolk identity-politics from its more serious, intellectually valid Scottish equivalent, because the former turns out to be totally balmy. The play crashes along in a vein of quaint, musty, pseudo-medievalism, with a teenaged witch chanting creepy old songs and the characters being increasingly inundated by a satanic chicken infestation. A bag of hay is brought in and the stuff is strewn everywhere (the stench is quite something), almost as an assertion of national power. Villagers mutter darkly about the doings up in London, which now seems to be more foreign than France.
The acting is very good, with Beth Cooke and Josephine Butler both getting into the proper redneck spirit. Some reviewers have complained about the play’s brevity, but I thought that this was successfully in keeping with the nightmarish atmosphere of Daphne du Maurier’s terse short story “The Birds” (1952), which “Chicken” is obviously based upon.
A play which takes us from Scotland’s principled struggle for independence to brainwashed chickens overrunning a vicarage. How dare they!