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Morley's sponsors Chicken Burger n Chips in south London's Jack Studio Theatre

The legendary chicken shop announced last week it would sponsor tickets for young theatregoers

Corey Bovell in Chicken Burger n Chips
© Aeveen Barghi

Sponsored theatre tickets are by no means a new initiative but that did not stop eyebrows being raised earlier this week when it was announced that Morley's, a South London chicken shop chain, was to provide tickets for youth groups to watch a new production at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley. Corey Bovell's Chicken Burger n Chips ran last week at the venue and thanks to the fast food company, audiences were joined by 40 younger members who would not otherwise have been able to attend.

Founded in 1985, Morley's is an institution south of the river – more than a place to sample legendary wings and chips, the shops are vital social spaces in south London, particularly for young people. As gentrification transforms London's urban landscape at an alarming rate, chicken shops like Morley's mean an enormous amount to local communities that have built a relationship with the shop and its employees. Simply put, this establishment was known and respected long before Stormzy and internet sensation The Chicken Connoisseur filmed respective videos in the now sadly defunct Thornton Heath restaurant.

Chicken Burger n Chips is a semi-autobiographical piece about a young person at a crossroads in both personal relationships and crime, inspired by Bovell's adolescent experiences growing up in Lewisham. The play's primary setting is a chicken shop and as well as sponsoring tickets, Morley's have even provided branded props for the production. Bovell's previous success as a writer and actor includes a sell out run of his debut play 32 Peak Street at the 2018 Camden Fringe Festival, while Chicken was longlisted for the 2019 Bruntwood Prize.

Given the story's subject matter and setting, it is clear to see why Morley's was keen to become involved with the production, but their willingness to sponsor tickets goes beyond PR. The chicken shop has a history of supporting creative enterprises in south London. They have become frequent collaborators with Balamii Radio for example, an underground and independent radio station spinning a variety of genres including grime, jazz, hip-hop and house. The two organisations host annual events at Peckham's Bussey Building which have been highly successful in the past. Balamii's selectors take control of the venue's music and Morley's sell delicious wings at 25p a pop outside – what's not to like?

These events are in addition to a number of collaborations and affiliations with musicians – predominantly rappers – from south London, but the partnership with the Jack Studio Theatre represents the first time Morley's has made a foray into the theatre world. The decision to sponsor tickets demonstrates a restaurant in touch with its own identity and those of its customers. In the words of Morley's managing director Shan Selvendran, "Like Corey, Morley's was born in South London. We are a proud part of the community that calls us its own."

What is also exciting is the fact that it could well inspire the next generation of kids who watch the production to get involved with theatre themselves. In past interviews, Bovell has mentioned how his creative inspiration was sparked after watching Adrian Lester in the National's 2013 production of Othello. Hopefully here too, something beautifully cyclical will occur.

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