Hen and Chickens Theatre
Reviewed – 28th May 2019
“challenging and clever … while being fun, funny and downright exhilarating …”
Punk isn’t dead. And, if it is, then the body still smells. That smell is tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ! – coming up through the floorboards and still offending, still challenging but somehow thought-provoking. The play, written by Mike Packer and directed by Steve Thompson has all of that punk spirit but takes advantage of the time passed and the theatrical format. The delivery is a moving and hilarious story of a band coming back together so they can sell out to corporate America.
Packer has written a deeply challenging and cryptically sincere play that drives the audience through the late lives of four estranged bandmates, skewered together by the offer of hundreds of thousands of pounds from an American credit card company for their song to be in an advert. Billy, the band’s lead singer, disappears after a mysterious event in Copenhagen but each of the band’s members grows into a complicated, meaningful and developed character. The show rises and crescendos with clever themes about capitalism, integrity and death served to the audience enciphered as offensive and simple-seeming punk rock behaviour. Despite the shouting and screaming which sets a world record for fucks and shits and the awesomely loud on stage punk performances, the show whispers its ideas and never thrusts them on a single audience member.
The direction from Thompson is superb as the actors navigate a tight space at the Hen and Chickens Theatre. The music and on-stage band are weaved nicely to create a real sense of the punk in each set change, each prop and the stubborn refusal to turn anything down for an older, more mature, Islington audience. With the script setting each scene well, the musical instruments in the back of each conversation give a sense of thematic space rather than a physical location.
The acting was fantastic with Danny Swanson leading the way as Billy Abortion but others in the cast giving equally comprehensive and intense performances. Swanson finds the paradoxes in Billy the washed-up lead singer but somehow resolves them with clarity – his erratic and destructive behaviour end up enigmatically making total sense. As the evening progresses, Emily Fairman as Louise Gash delivers emotional depths that are best experienced in person, not through a review.
tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ! Is not to be underestimated. Although it pays homage to a genre of the past, the production is entirely of the present. Its questions, anxieties and characters make sense in our world of ‘brand authenticity’ and Instagram art. A challenging and clever play that rejects forced intellectualism without throwing away thoughtfulness – all while being fun, funny and downright exhilarating.
Reviewed by William Nash
Hen and Chickens Theatre until 1st June
Previously reviewed at this venue: