Being a big fan of dystopian fiction (in any art form), and also hailing originally from a rural area, the premise of Molly Davies’s new play Chicken held great promise. Unfortunately, I lost that sense of hope twenty minutes into the play – because, despite some moving moments and a wonderfully atmospheric setting, the play never made quite enough sense or delivered enough emotional impact for me.
The story is set in a dismal future, where agricultural areas are to be cut off from their urban counterparts and become states in their own right. London, in this desolate vision, is a rich person’s paradise, and a place that rural communities feel a great deal of bitterness towards. We are introduced to a range of characters from East Anglia, each of whom has different feelings about the separation of the county. What power this play has comes from its uncomfortably bleak setting; to emphasise the dystopia, we are sat in the round, with Tardis-like lights above us and a smoky haze billowing all around.
But regrettably, the clever setting and futuristic lighting is not enough to carry the full duration of the play. The fragmented storyline is interesting at first; we wonder how it will all tie up, and what the outcomes might be. But I was left unsatisfied by the half-answers we are given, and the script is plagued by an over-complicated narrative, which is difficult to relate to and follow. A particular area of confusion surrounded the character Rosie; there was a wiccan element to her character that seemed out of place in this futuristic setting.
It was also, at times, hard to swallow the East Anglian accents – some of the actors were passable, while others slipped from county to county. But that being said, the play is not without its stand-out moments. The final outburst from actor Josephine Butler took my breath away, embodying the real and raw emotions that a mother can face in dire situations.
It saddens me that I left the theatre with more questions about the storyline than about the bleak world it portrayed. The set-up feels like it should raise wider political questions about whether a future like this is possible. But instead, I left slightly confused, slightly moved… and slightly disappointed.