DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Chicken Soup – Studio Theatre, Sheffield

Writers: Ray Castleton & Kieran Knowles

Director: Bryony Shanahan

Designer: Sophia Simensky

Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent

Writers Castleton and Knowles, assert that this play is not a tribute to the women who took action during the miners’ strike in 1984/85 by establishing soup kitchens in Miners Welfare and Community Halls. They insist that this play, while ignited by the miners’ strike, is in fact about the lives of five women from the time of the strike up to the present day. While the political elements of the play will inspire something guttural from audiences, it is fair to say that the passion in this piece comes from the remarkable things that ordinary people accomplish. It’s difficult to not want to be entirely engrossed in the practical, no-nonsense generosity of these women, but the play focuses instead on class struggles, friendship tensions and familial bonds across three decades.

The acting is strong overall. Samantha Power is feisty but complex as Christine; Judy Flynn is authentic and tender as Josephine; and Simone Saunders portrays a sophisticated character arc as Jennifer. The three pitch the time leaps in their characters and relationships beautifully and spend the majority of the play on stage, displaying remarkable stamina. Remmie Milner brings joy with her impetuous teenage Katie, then softens into an assertive woman without losing all her adolescent zeal. Jo Hatley has the unenviable task of spending the majority of the play off-stage with only a brief scene in each act. In both instances she is pitched so intelligently and sensitively, one is left wanting so much more. A very honest and well-inclined performance. 

A beautifully detailed set that groaned with history is masterfully crafted by Sophia Simensky. A feast for the eyes with thought invested in every surface which made the audience want to peer around corners and into boxes. A fairly lengthy but well-choreographed set change demonstrated the care that has gone into creating this lived-in kitchen, and the actors use the space perfectly, knowing every nook like it was home. Some lovely detail in the lighting, designed by Prema Mehta added further to the reality of the world of the play.

Some brief and infrequent moments of underscoring seemed to undermine the tension rather than adding to it, taking this entirely realistic piece and moving it towards TV drama. It’s not so diverting as to ruin the moment, rather it is simply unnecessary.

Bryony Shanahan is unobtrusive as a director and has clearly allowed her performer’s room to explore. One particular moment where Power and Hatley share a difficult scene is poised with real care. Both characters experiencing a moment privately but are entirely open to the audience. The writing is warm and encompasses large time leaps artfully, but could have been somewhat bolder when orbiting such meaty issues. Enjoyable overall.

With an all-female cast and such a female-heavy creative team, it’s lovely to see the cast sporting their 50/50 badges in the programme.

Runs until 3rd March 2018 | Image: Mark Douet

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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