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Hen and Chickens Theatre

LAUTREC  at the Hen and Chickens Theatre



“Both Rattigan and Drisch look the part in detailed and timely costumes”


Comte Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was a French painter whose art gained significant notoriety through its colourful and lively depiction of the theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century. Producing over 737 canvases, 363 prints and posters and over 5,000 drawings in a career of less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec was a powerhouse of the post-Impressionist movement.

Shadowmask Theatre’s new play Lautrec – directed by Natalie Winter – explores the success of this incredible artist but also his tragic fate. Born to nobility, Toulouse-Lautrec – played by Fergus Rattigan – suffered from stunted growth, his legs never healing properly from injuries in his early teens. In his despair, the young man turned his attention to creative endeavours whilst also embracing a philosophy of complete hedonism which included drinking to excess and frequenting brothels. Marie Drisch joins Rattigan on stage to play an impressive eleven characters – from Lautrec’s mother to the co-founder of the Moulin Rouge – all of which hold a significant place in the artist’s rise and fall.

Rattigan is fantastic as the play’s tragic hero, initially bursting onto stage speaking impassioned French before adapting for his English audience. He mixes the two languages well throughout with his accent rarely slipping. Our lead brings a great comedy to the role – a particular highlight being his first rendezvous with a prostitute – but he really shines in Lautrec’s final scenes in a psychiatric hospital where he suffers from hallucinations due to syphilis.

Drisch is a fine partner to the troubled artist, but her multitude of roles often makes her feel stretched thin as she frequently must throw on a new hat or accessory to signify the entrance of a new character. Drisch is best when she is allowed to settle into a role such as in an extended scene as Lautrec’s friend Yvette Guilbert where they discuss the artist’s frustration at never being considered a sexual option due to his disability. The play packs a lot into its hour runtime, and it is Drisch who unfortunately suffers most.

The theatre space is successfully utilised – a sofa, a small table and chairs and various props including a sketch book, a bottle of wine and numerous concealed hip flasks. Some of Lautrec’s most famous paintings and sketches decorate the surrounding walls – they are revealed throughout the performance as we move through the artist’s life. This is highly effective and makes the play’s final scenes even more poignant. One suggestion would be to litter the stage with more debris such as empty bottles and dirty clothes as the painter’s life spirals downwards.

Sound and lighting is basic and rarely used to its full potential. There are a few sound effects – dogs barking off stage, the sound of drinks pouring – but they are utilised inconsistently, and the actors unfortunately do not react in good time to their deployment. Lighting could be used for exciting results such as to emulate the excitement of the cabaret stage but instead remains static throughout except for the final scenes where Lautrec is on his deathbed. This feels like a missed opportunity and could really enliven the hedonistic portions of the play.

Both Rattigan and Drisch look the part in detailed and timely costumes. Notably, Rattigan becomes more and more dishevelled throughout the performance, removing his signature bowler hat and smart jacket as he descends into madness.

Lautrec is greatly successful in spotlighting the work and life of the formidable Toulouse-Lautrec and its vignettes will have you googling the artist for some time. With some polish and refinement, this play will go far.


Reviewed on 15th August 2022

by Flora Doble




Latest reviews from the other Fringe – Edinburgh Festival Fringe:

Boorish Trumpson | ★★★ | August 2022
About Money | ★★★½ | August 2022
Fabulett 1933 | ★★★ | August 2022
Tropicana | ★★★★ | August 2022
No Place Like Home | ★★★★ | August 2022
Age Is A Feeling | ★★★★ | August 2022
My Son’s A Queer | ★★★★★ | August 2022
Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen | ★★★★ | August 2022
Grandmother’s Closet | ★★★ | August 2022
Brown Boys Swim | ★★★★ | August 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews


The Maids – Hizmetçiler

Hen and Chickens Theatre

The Maids

The Maids / Hizmetçiler

Hen and Chickens Theatre

Reviewed – 15th January 2020


“this shallow and melodramatic take on the play adds nothing to Genet’s original text”


The Maids is a French play, written by Jean Genet and first performed in 1947, about two housemaids – sisters – who have created a sado-masochistic world through which they devise rituals around the fantasy of killing their mistress. This Turkish production has ‘updated’ the story to contemporary London, and the maids mostly speak their native language, apart from when speaking to their off-stage mistress. Their is scope here for a fairly devastating look at the unseen slavery in the houses of the London super-rich, but, alas, this shallow and melodramatic take on the play adds nothing to Genet’s original text, and instead takes away a great deal.

The Maids is a difficult play to stage well; both its emotions and its language are heightened to a degree that removes it from the naturalistic. We are in a claustrophobic imaginary world of sex and power, in which the language continually unsettles, by endlessly see-sawing from overblown Baudelairian symbolism to the filthiest street slang imaginable. The language is essential to the understanding of this play, as it is the oral manifestation of the extraordinary secret world which the sisters have built for themselves over years of living together in stifling emotional deprivation; so it is a nigh on impossible job to engage an audience in this world when 90% of the script (for the Brits in the audience) is read in surtitles, as here. Turkish is a beautiful, rich, expressive language but, in a small pub theatre in London, it seems an exceptionally large ask to require the performers to battle through such a particularly demanding French text for what will inevitably be a largely British audience. It is fantastic to hear other languages spoken on our stages – London is a polyglot city after all – but why not a Turkish play? There seemed no compelling drive to tell this particular story; if there was, it was certainly lost in translation.

The two performers were exhausting to watch, mainly because they were breathless throughout. Relentless panting is neither sexy nor emotionally intense, and it became tedious very quickly indeed. Given that this production chose a difficult language path, it particularly behoved the director to help the performers find a rich physical language to help them tell this story. Frustratingly, the movement was repetitive and full of cliche; entirely devoid of danger or tension. The sisters’ relationship was completely dead; devoid of the bedrock of love and companionship which has slowly morphed into this twisted game of power and desire. Too often, the actors felt marooned on stage without any sense of narrative purpose, and attempted to fill this emptiness by over-emoting. Unfortunately this only added to the tawdry, ghost-train atmosphere supplied by the unhelpful sound and lighting design. The off-stage voice of the mistress was curiously atonal and one-note, and overall the production ended up as nothing more than a dispiriting melodrama, with nothing to tell us.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw


The Maids / Hizmetçiler

Hen and Chickens Theatre


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
I Will Miss you When You’re Gone | ★★½ | September 2018
Mojo | ★★ | November 2018
Hawk | ★★★ | December 2018
Not Quite | ★★★ | February 2019
The First Modern Man | ★★★ | February 2019
The Dysfunckshonalz! | ★★★★★ | May 2019
No One Likes Us | ★★★ | August 2019
Scenic Reality | | August 2019
A Great Big Sigh | ★★★ | September 2019
The Improvised Shakespeare Show | ★★★ | October 2019


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