Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Chauntecleer and Pertelotte

Dougie Blaxland
Live Wire Theatre Company
Old Red Lion Theatre
(2009)

Production photo

An Aesop-ish fable about anthropomorphised chickens, cross-species lust and sexual jealousy inspired by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was never going to be the easiest sell on a night on which there was an England football match. Yet the sparse attendance did not appear to faze this pair of skilful performers, who committed energetically to this fast paced two-hander.

Annie Hemingway and Tim Dewberry tell the tale of "Pert, perky" Northern hen Pertelotte and the strutting French cock, Chauntecleer, with genuine glee. Speaking entirely in Dougie Blaxland's fearlessly filthy Chaucerian nonsense rhymes, the two actors become the eponymous poultry, the knowing narrators and a host of supporting characters not found in the original Nun's Priest's Tale.

Hemingway is outstanding as Pertelotte; her chuckling clucks as she fussily settles upon her "perch" are disturbingly accurate. The chemistry between the two actors is terrific, and the movement (directed by Kate Sagovsky) of this charmingly physical piece is evocative and effective.

It takes a few minutes to adjust to the verse (which has entirely departed from its Middle- English roots) but the simple, if somewhat slight story is easy enough to follow. These are not complex characters with complex motives and the only conclusion drawn is there are none to be drawn. The fallout from Pertelotte's eye-watering revenge upon Chauntecleer is handled cursorily, and though it's very engaging and amusing piece, it is one without any substantive point.

Saka Matsushita's minimalist set is beautiful, with a deconstructed five-bar gate, upon which strips of pastoral scenes are painted, suspended over the stage. The Old Red Lion is an intimate space, which feels even more intimate with such a small audience, but James Bounds' confident direction creates space and energy in the small venue, whilst fostering the feeling the narrators are confiding directly in the audience.

Unfortunately, the extremely drunk man in the front row decided to confide (loudly) in the actors, heckling them several times during the denouement. Dewberry and Hemingway handled him as adroitly as any seasoned stand up; Dewberry even getting an extra laugh as he was heckled midway through his hammy death scene by responding, in Chauntecleer's Inspector Clouseau-sounding French accent, "Shut up. I'm dying".

Despite the shortcomings of plot and purpose, there are plenty of joyous (and some extremely dirty) laughs to be found spending an evening with these charming storytellers. Chauntecleer and Pertelotte is a bawdy, raucous romp delivered with passion by two talented actors who deserved a bigger audience.

Until 13th of June

Reviewer: Beth O'Brien