Chalk Farm / Brown Bird

Kieran Hurley and AJ Tauvedin / Lee Mattinson
ThickSkin / Chicken Pox Fox
Bush Theatre

Chalk Farm Credit: Tommy Ga-ken Wan
Brown Bird

After its success last year, the RADAR festival returns to the Bush Theatre showcasing some of the finest new writers.

First up in a double bill of thought-provoking plays is Chalk Farm, Kieran Hurley and AJ Taudevin’s examination of the blame culture surrounding the 2011 London riots.

Presented by ThickSkin, Chalk Farm is a wonderfully-written and thoughtfully-acted piece with some great design moments. Drawn from real-life accounts of the riots the story has the necessary depth needed for impact. There is a poetic air about Hurley and Taudevin’s carefully-constructed script, much like in Hurley’s previous works Beats.

The action follows single mum Maggie (Julia Taudevin) and her fourteen-year-old son Jamie (Thomas Dennis) who live in Chalcots Estate, Chalk Farm. As Maggie begins to suspect Jamie’s involvement in the riots, their relationship is pushed to the limits—can Maggie trust her Batman lunchbox-owning, cheese and pickle sandwich-loving son?

A series of screens is used effectively with various music interludes to aptly create the “electricity” in the air as described by Jamie. There is a remarkable moment showing Jamie’s increasing guilt when his face is continuously projected onto screens (like CCTV) as he frantically tries to turn them off. Dennis displays great maturity in his professional debut and I hope to see him on stage again soon.

The typical worrying mother is captured perfectly by Taudevin (Julia when acting, AJ when writing) whose performance is engaging, thoughtful and most importantly realistic.

Chalk Farm is an exciting attempt to understand and explain the riots that could be even bolder in examining the vitriol behind the accusations.

This is followed by Chicken Pox Fox’s one-woman show Brown Bird, which tells the story of a Brownie leader whose life is shattered by an accusation of child molestation.

Paula Penman’s characterisation of Brown Owl Beth is flawless; her comic timing and emotional depth are captivating. The interplay of music and projection is also very well utilised with clips from Erasure, One Direction as well as Mary Poppins and Wicked.

However, even Laura Lindow’s capable direction is not enough to solve Brown Bird’s issues.

What are we expected to feel for Beth? After all, whilst she is certainly not guilty of molestation, there is an uneasiness about her fascination (almost obsession) with child Phoebe.

Perhaps I missed something but in spite of a brilliant performance Brown Bird left me confused and wanting a bit more.

Reviewer: Sean Brooks

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