Monday, 9 March 2015

Theatre review: Chicken Dust

The conditions in which animals meant for cheap food are raised are something we probably wouldn't want to think about too much; but Ben Weatherill's play Chicken Dust isn't so much about the birds themselves, as about how the lives of the people who work there aren't much more fun than those of the doomed chickens. A student who's had to grab the first job going when his father gets ill, Tim (Christopher Hancock) arrives at a Leicestershire farm that's been taken over by a large corporation. Chicks that have been hatched elsewhere are transported there to be raised and fattened up in a barn, and when they're ready for slaughter it's his job to catch them. He joins a team two of whom, Freddie (Roger Alborough) and Val (Paddy Navin) had their own farms before falling on hard times and having to sell out to the same sort of company that now pays them minimum wage.

Cheery Romanian Razvan (Mark Conway) is now the most efficient at catching the birds, overtaking Freddie who - a common risk for people doing this job - now gets regular shaking fits in his hands.

Chicken Dust follows a couple of weeks in their lives as they air their frustrations with the head farmer, Russ (Paul Easom,) but he in turn is in a hopeless situation, in debt to the food corporation run by the smug Oscar (Alex Gatehouse,) whose recommendations for better conditions always seem to require buying his own patented products. Meanwhile the slightest sign of sickness in the chickens could cost enough to put the farm out of business for good.

So a glimpse into a pretty grim way of life, although Chelsea Walker's production manages a few lighter moments thanks to Navin's fowl-mouthed* Val, and Conway's Razvan with his fondness for bad jokes. Weatherill's story does lose focus a bit though, not seeming too sure where the emotional core of the piece is meant to be. This in turn gives the production a mild case of Multiple Ending Syndrome, but it's certainly a worthwhile idea to look not just at cruelty to animals in the name of cheap food, but also cruelty to the people who have to produce it.

Chicken Dust by Ben Weatherill is booking in repertory until the 17th of March at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.


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