by Ben Wetherill.

Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 17 March 2015.
Sun, Mon 7.30pm Tue 2pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.

TICKETS: 0844 847 1652. (no booking fee by ’phone or online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 March.

Agricultural depression thriller beyond Oscar Wilde’s wildest nightmare.
Forget the clucking of chicks greeting a rural morning. Here’s a jet-scream of thousands, as ill-paid workers trample among them in huge sheds where young birds are force-bred before being gathered seven at a time, to be carted off and turned into meals. As manager Oscar, clean in his office suit, from the food company, puts it, chicken don’t belong on farms or in barns, but bread-crumbed or gravy-strewn on plates. Or in bargain buckets from fast-food shops.

Oscar’s connection with farming turn out nugatory, but he rules the roost in business, which makes him boss. His prospective visit from HQ brings out the Health and Safety in farmer Russ, suddenly dispensing face-masks to the chicken-gatherers, to go with their home-spun protective gear of stockings covering their arms.

While chickens are counted in thousands, people and loyalties count for nothing. When you slow-down you lose the overtime shifts, because income must be maximised as Russ, faced with bills, has to tell long-time employee Freddie. But a single chick can mean a lot when concealing its sickness risks the whole operation. It can cost jobs. And stringent health standards demand expensive new equipment the farmer can only afford by becoming indebted to the food-processing industry and its loans. Then there’s adverse publicity from opponents of factory farming, which can close a business even with its costly new equipment.

All this makes Ben Wetherill’s prize Leicester play sound like local grit and sombreness. But two things make matters more complex. The minor one is the almost-obligatory slender sign of hope at the end. The sweet-smelling soap with which he’s presented gives the most keenly suffering character pleasure amid his sour-skinned existence.

Far greater is the humour and resilience of these people at the toughest times. For all their problems, there’s a life to the farm-workers not shared by those from outside, who are consigned to the futures they make for themselves.

And there’s the carefully unfolded plot, taking us increasingly into the lives of characters delineated with individual care, brought alive by a sterling cast of determined individuals in Chelsea Walker’s gripping production,

Russ: Paul Easom.
Freddie: Roger Alborough.
Val: Paddy Navin.
Razvan: Mark Conway.
Tim: Christopher Hancock.
Oscar: Alexander Gatehouse.

Director: Chelsea Walker.
Designer: Cecilia Carey.
Lighting: Jamie Platt.
Sound: Ella Wahlström.
Costume: Sarah Mercadé.
Assistant director: John Young.

2015-03-18 00:34:46

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