The Chicken Trial is a funny story, funnier for the fact that it is true – the “real” chicken trial took place in Sweden in 2008. This humorous play is off-the-wall, very creative, and at times absurd. It’s billed as a “documentary fantasy”, but the script also addresses some serious questions raised in the trial, about art and animals as well.
In a nutshell, an art student Makode Linde is prosecuted for having taken a bunch of chickens to a nightclub. She had decorated their feathers, and let them loose on the dance floor. Here, she stands trial for cruelty to the chickens – which she denies, protesting her actions were in the name of art.
It’s a well-written and thoughtful script by Finnish writer Johanna Koljonen (the play is brought to the Fringe by Start to Finnish, celebrating theatre from Finland and Nordic countries). Questions raised include the classic “What is art?”, and whether “art” is a valid defence anyway. The issues discussed at trial – for example, did the paint touch only the chickens’ feathers, or their bodies as well? – show up how silly the process of the law can appear at times.
The creative presentation sets the show apart, and brings variety to what might otherwise be a staid courtroom drama. The show is colourful and generally silly. Our attention is grabbed from the start, when the characters appear in the courtroom wearing outsized masks of “white, middle-class men” – designed, presumably, to imitate and send up the legal personnel at the original trial. When they proceed to all do the Birdie Song together, the stage is set for a treat.
Speeches and witness evidence are interspersed with banal interludes: a number of scenes consist of the two opposing lawyers busily scribbling on their notebooks, and in perfect time throwing away what they have written. It’s a simple idea with a sophisticated effect, caricaturing the lawyers as well as the judge. She and the two lawyers all change clothes on set several times throughout the show, a comic effect which only adds to the trial’s contrariness.
Personally I didn’t like the inclusion of a real live dog dressed as a chicken. But I guess most people will enjoy the spectacle of a cute dog in his yellow suit, all oblivious as to what was going on. And he did get fed lots of treats as reward for his star appearance.
On the day I was there, there were a few fluffed lines from several of the actors. But for the ingenuity of their show, the thought-provoking script, the overall entertainment value – as well as the variety they managed to deliver in a very small space – they absolutely deserve each of those four stars.