One in a string of shows to transfer from the Old Red Lion theatre, Happy New, Brendan Cowell’s dark comedy about two Australian brothers cruelly abandoned by their mother in a chicken coop, opened at Trafalgar Studio 2 last night.
Set years after their four month incarceration in the coop, Lyle and Danny struggle to function in the normal world, traumatised by their remarkable childhood experience. They once took centre stage in the media spotlight thanks to TV reporter Pru, whose journalistic career rocketed as a result of the siblings’ story, but now they want to start their lives afresh, but will Pru’s scheming ever allow them to move forward?
Following his performance in the Islington venue’s production, Joel Samuels returns to the role of Lyle, an erratic and child-like individual who relies a great deal on his brother. In a compelling and disturbing performance, Samuels’ animated and emotive facial expressions serve to conceal Lyle’s underlying instability, which surges to the surface in a number of instances throughout the production as the violence he was forced to demonstrate towards the chickens in order to survive translates to the humans he now encounters around him.
Samuels is joined by new cast members Lisa Dillon and William Troughton, both of whom give equally powerful performances as Pru and Danny. The more authoritative of the two brothers, Troughton’s Danny appears a tower of emotional strength in comparison to Samuels’ vulnerable Lyle, manipulating his brother and denying him the chance to move on. But in the hands of Dillon’s Pru – herself a whirlwind of manipulation – Danny too becomes impressionable, the haunted look in Troughton’s eyes revealing fear and submission as the trio falls into a human pecking order.
While Lyle inherited a certain degree of savagery during the four months he struggled to stay alive in the pen, both brothers also adopted the chickens’ mannerisms. Conveyed through the actors’ movement around the stage, Troughton and Samuels perch on items of furniture, cluck and jolt their necks forward in a manner that is both fascinating and disturbing.
Cowell’s play is certainly more ‘dark’ than it is ‘comedy’, which is largely owing to the intensity of the trio’s performances and the brutal fact – emerging towards the end of Robert Shaw’s production – that in their enduring state of entrapment they may just as well have never left the coop.