Chicken Sh!t

Isobelle Whinnett
The College of Deviants
The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester

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Chicken Sh!t Credit: Druid Design
Chicken Sh!t Credit: Druid Design
Chicken Sh!t Credit: Druid Design
Chicken Sh!t Credit: Druid Design
Chicken Sh!t Credit: Druid Design
Chicken Sh!t Credit: Druid Design

Offering to review a show, one assumes it will be possible to get to the venue. Tonight, however, access to Manchester is limited by a citywide celebration which necessitates a hike by foot from Salford. Still, will not let the hassle of getting to the venue, or an awareness that returning home under the circumstances is going to involve jogging across two motorways, spitefully influence my opinion of the play. Much.

Gerald (Tom Hardman) carries a torch for Lee (Emma Hyslop) and hopes they will be able to reconnect when she returns to their rural community to celebrate Gerald’s parents renewing their wedding vows on their 42nd anniversary (the event being postponed from the more logical ruby anniversary by the renovation of a kitchen). But the prodigal has more significant things to consider, her terminally ill sister Shruti (played with a gleeful psychotic edge by Imogen Woodward) is fading fast and, before exiting life, hopes to stage an act of petty revenge at the ceremony. Older sister Lola (author and co-director Isobelle Whinnett) has plans to save Shruti even though her experiments have resulted in a mysterious and monstrous creature plaguing the community.

The College of Deviants has previously concentrated on scratch performances, and there is an occasional improvised feel to their first full-length play, Chicken Sh!t. Pretty sure during a heated argument between the sisters, one of them shouts "Chicken goujons" for no apparent reason. In the main, however, this is a confident and engagingly off-centre production.

Isobelle Whinnett’s script has some very funny lines—guide dogs are welcome in the church, but guide cats are treated with disdain. However, the cast deliver the lines with a deadpan seriousness and, as a result, the play is disquietingly funny peculiar rather than funny ha-ha.

Co-directors Isobelle Whinnett and Marco Simioni merge conventional horror tropes—thunder regularly rumbles overhead—with more ominously eccentric moments—Lola intensely quizzing the local butcher on the best way to cut through meat and bone. This builds a genuinely creepy atmosphere, so that when Lola’s creature makes an appearance, it is suitably disturbing.

The creature is brought to life efficiently by way of a sheet pulsing up and down to suggest breathing. The creature attacking the community, by way of a projection onto a screen, is so gloriously silly as to be a parody of the classic cinema confrontation between human and monster. The play becomes more conventional towards the conclusion simply because of the need to wrap up loose ends and draw to a close, but Chicken Sh!t remains a fine combination of horror and humour.

Chicken Sh!t marks The College of Deviants as a company well worth watching in the hope of further odd but engaging full-length works.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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