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Published 27 June 2012

The West End’s McDonald’s must be delighted that new play Chicken has opened at the Trafalgar Studios.

I’m sure business will be booming anyway this summer, but so many burgers are munched as part of the show that the production team probably have their own till beneath the golden arches.

The calorific comestibles from various fast food franchises are served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the New York apartment that plays home to husband and wife Wendell and Lina, and Wendell’s lifelong friend Floyd, a houseguest worse for the health of the couple’s relationship than their heart-attack-in-a-bag diet.

Writer Mike Batistick doesn’t paint an appealing picture of working class New York. Floyd can’t keep a job because just turning up seems like too much hard work, Lina smokes and drinks her way through pregnancy because taking responsibility is a bit much for her nine months after she and Wendell should have been responsible in the first place, and Wendell has as much authority as half-digested burger sauce.

The answer to their problems is, of course, the repulsive ‘sport’ of cockfighting. Together they raise a rooster to which they will attach blades before setting it loose against another bird in the hope of winning the money they could work for. It’s not a pleasant situation.

The anger that surges just thinking about the idea reflects the mood of the play, which was first staged off-Broadway by Sopranos actor Michael Imperioli. Everyone’s furious about something, from parents to not having parents, to being a parent, having money, not having money, lending, being lent to, stealing, borrowing, working, not working. There’s more rage here than in a slow moving fast food queue at three in the morning.

Though former Coronation Street star Craig Kelly and Loose Women panellist Lisa Maxwell are the best known names in the cast, lesser known performers dominate the stage. George Georgiou, whose company Inner City Productions stages the show, is a focused, driven, passionate presence as enforced interloped Floyd, combining with Andy Lucas as his stroke-survivor father in the show’s most powerful scene, with Lucas startling in his leg-twitching, claw-handed portrayal of an old man for whom focusing on a single short sentence is a struggle.

The familial sense of masculinity, fatherhood and jostling for position are at the heart of Chicken, that and searching for hope and quick money to offer respite to the daily grind. Unfortunately cockfighting is a fowl alternative to the lottery.


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