Chicken is a right load of old cockerel about rooster fights, friendship and dysfunctional marriage in the Bronx; and, in Sam Neophytou’s squawky production of Mike Batistick’s 2007 off-Broadway grunge fest, some classic ropey stage-management.
Lights flash up on a black-garbed scene-shifter. A new packet of cornflakes is already opened (ditto a new beer bottle at the race-track). And a plate of eggs is manifestly just one little yolk. This shoddiness is symptomatic of a show that rings false at every turn.
The self-conscious grossness of the play – half-Cuban Floyd (George Georgiou), best pal from foster home days of toll-keeper, burger-scoffing Wendell (an unsuitably trim-figured Craig Kelly) is discovered taking a leak, sniffing his armpits and lazily playing with himself in front of television porn – proves way beyond this cast.
Way beyond even cute little former The Bill actress Lisa Maxwell, who makes such a point of being straight-talking and street-wise on Loose Women, my television lunchtime show of preference. Lisa plays Wendell’s drunk and pregnant wife Lina, who breast-feeds her child in the last scene (cue baby gurgles from a distant planet, cheers stage-management) after greedily snogging floppy Floyd.
Wendell’s cock, which is supposed to make his fortune, is not feeling all that frisky, so Floyd tracks down the father who abandoned him, Andy Lucas’ gibbering and helpless old Felix, to try and bully out of him a secret pick-me-up recipe of cereal and hartshorn.
Lucas then goes into one of the most insanely protracted demonstrations of bad disability acting I’ve ever seen. Even his own son gives him a good whack in the stomach, and just as well; I sensed that the small but perfectly formed Trafalgar audience was about to rise up as one and stamp on his head.
The farmyard fighter does the business but ends up in a pot all the same. That’s not the point of the play: Lina and the men are belatedly visited by Amy Tez’s Rosalind, Floyd’s wife, whom he’s abandoned along with their children, and the men lock horns. They then go into silhouette cock-fighting mode while Jerry Springer clucks on about more family misfortunes in the background.
Batistick’s play is not without its slice of lowlife energy and idiomatic swagger. But this version is like watching ping pong instead of tennis, or eating sausage rolls instead of raw T-bone. Chicken, in short, is chicken, and fit only for a critical casserole.