Hen is the debut play written by Josh Husselbee and directed by Sarah Fox. It tells the story of Alister (George Fletcher) and Andrew (Oliver Lyndon) who are privileged friends sharing a flat in east London.
Following his recovery from a recent overdose, and the death of his mother, Alister is bequeathed a hen through his mother’s will, and must persuade his flatmate to help keep her alive in order to inherit the family money.
Alister had strained relationships with both his parents, and his attempts to become a better person for his mother’s posthumous forgiveness put him in a situation we could only imagine of having to deal with. The line from his mother’s voicemail to him of “some people are just born rotten” hits a nerve and sets the tone for how we see Alister. He is not failing, he is struggling.
Flatmate Andrew does not need a job, focussing instead on various girls and spending money to keep him occupied. It’s clear he wants to be in control of situations, to the point of being manipulative at times. This homosocial relationship between Alister and Andrew is fractious – whilst moments are bonding and raw, the anger and lack of understanding of each other’s circumstances is obvious. They are both extremely lost, trying to find a purpose.
The comedic delivery of the play uses the hen to represent the chaotic reality of life, the messy situations and the anger at what we are dealt; mix that with how to look after a hen, and a lot of eggs and excrement in a two bedroomed flat, and you are provided with a strong blend to a dark narrative.
Both George Fletcher and Oliver Lyndon provide raw, gut-wrenching performances in the play, having a great chemistry to hit the anger and grief, to then play off each other when the chaos of looking after a chicken ensues.
The tiny playing space at The Hope easily becomes the boys’ flat, a few chairs here and there and a circular yellow rug on the white floor (no coincidence this looks rather egg-like). Clever lighting in such a small venue is a joy and the sound too is spot on. Design of all these elements comes from Sarah Fox and Josh Husselbee.
The ending for me leaves more questions than we started with, and I couldn’t quite grasp the final concept. I feel it’s a representation of what is real, and what we wish to be real, but I do wonder what the original interpretation was meant to be.
Hen hits you in the gut then gives you the punch line moments later. It is a dark, longing, and purposeful play, and every individual can draw their own conclusions from its personal message.
“Georgie Staight’s no-frills revival is powerful and chilling”
Penelope Skinner’s Eigengrau, originally produced in London in 2010, follows the intersecting lives of four young people struggling to get by in London. Cassie works for a feminist organisation that lobbies parliament. Rose believes in fairies and star signs and true love. Mark is a womanising marketing bro. Tim, suffering from depression, barely manages his shifts at a fast food takeaway. Their lives intertwine with devastating consequences in this modern-day Grimm’s fairytale.
Director Georgie Staight’s no-frills revival is powerful and chilling. With a sparse, efficient set (Bex Kemp) – just a few wooden boxes used as benches and tables – Staight boldly strips the show down to its leanest form. Fast-paced and highly entertaining, there isn’t a dull moment in its nearly two-hour runtime.
Staight’s faith in the strength of her cast to carry the show barefaced, without the padding of excessive design, is not misplaced. Four well-selected actors deliver accomplished performances. George Fletcher is easily convincing as the cocky, manipulative Mark. Callum Sharp is subtle yet nuanced as the harmless – but perhaps not quite – Tim Muffin. Isabel Della-Porta wholly owns her role as the strong but still immature feminist Cassie. And Katie Buchholz shines, earning her place as the star of the show, with an exceptional performance as the idealistic, desperate Rose. Buchholz is captivating: fluttery and electric with madness at all of her edges. She effortlessly draws focus and holds it for the duration she’s on stage. Like a violin string wound too tight, she keeps us on edge, uneasily wondering when she’ll snap. Cassie says she’s a little bit afraid of Rose. We are too.
Although there are moments of the play that feel dated – in the post-Metoo era, a ‘feminist’ is no longer a curiosity – Staight is smart in realising the many ways Eigengrau is immediately relevant. Men pretending to be woke (or worse, believing they are), while demeaning and manipulating women, are still sharks in 2019 waters. And the overall feminist message still rings true: Rose embodies the damage done by years of consuming misogynist ideology packaged as fairytales and rom-coms. Disinterest from men means she’s deficient. There’s no relationship that can’t be fixed by the right dress and a grand gesture. It’s no wonder her optimism, at the age of twenty-seven, is beginning to take on a manic quality. Cassie wants Rose to see the world for what it is: cruel and oppressive, full of untrustworthy people. But Rose shuts her eyes to any evidence that contradicts her belief the world is a good place. If the world is hideous, isn’t it better to be blind?
Eigengrau is the name for the shade of black seen by the eye in perfect darkness. With this revival, Staight is shrewd asking the woke generation of 2019 – who see, daily, the harsh realities of a sinister society no longer bothering to disguise its hate – how tempting, how soothing, must eigengrau be? To shut your eyes, shut it all out, even for a moment? But while eigengrau may seem like a safe haven, Skinner’s story reminds us of the danger in seeking it. No progress can be made in darkness. There’s no going back to sleep, now that we’re awake.
With this production of Eigengrau, Staight is asking feminist questions that, nine years later, audiences still need to hear. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Skinner’s enthralling, razor sharp play revived by a strong cast.