Composers: Oscar McLennan and Martin Tourish
Writer: Oscar McLennan
Reviewer: Westley Barnes
Oscar McLennan’s Kiss of The Chicken King at the Project Arts Centre sets the audience up for a whimsical look at what being a cultural outsider in Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands-era government would be like with its empire-clutching aggressiveness and England-for-England’s sake rhetoric. An expressively lit stage (designed by Noelia Ruiz with Michelle Barry) conjures up a visual urgency at every excitable jolt of McLennan’s narrative eccentricity and sheens the production with its most complimentary features. However, what could emerge as a thoughtfully subversive comment of an era of British History fraught with the tensions of rapid cultural diversity ends up as a somewhat self-serving satire of personal failure. One only needs to think of Martin Amis’s novels of the late Thatcher era (Money, London Fields) to get a sense of the era’s broiling sense of Government-implemented racial tension and nihilistic individualism, but individualism is the only thing that really seems to worry McLennan’s narrative, and Thatcher, or as “the Hokey Cokey Woman” as McLennan sings her name, is really only a scapegoat framed to reflect his own self-worthiness, and spurn his desire to be the audience’s best friend.
Whether he achieves that remains to be seen, for then come the songs. Scored with an atmospheric Gallic thrust by Martin Tourish’s rousing accordion and Erica Peroni’s encouraging soprano backing, McLennan is unfortunately no singer, nor lyric writer, and the results of jarringly middle-of-the-road numbers are too many. Addressed to an apparent ex-lover, a plot device used only, it seems, to frame a few songs around, their presence in the play are as structurally pointless as that of Olwen Fouéré’s turn as a screen-projected inner-negative voice, which appears solely (and regularly) only to give the impression of the performance being more like a play than an attempt at stand-up comedy. Although complimented with impressive production details throughout, what Kiss of The Chicken King overtly lacks is a convincing arc of content. Though obviously a talented comedic performer and refreshingly irreverent poet, what McLennan fails to give this attempted stage version of his novel is a convincing stage structure. Too many breaks in the ever-thinning narrative saunter into dashed cabaret and only fragments the audience’s attention on what the focus of the production seems to promise. McLennan’s monologue is a case of too many ingredients, trying to entertain rather than inspire empathy.
Set over what seems to be both a single afternoon in 1982 and an entire adult lifespan and pent-up self-consciousness and comedic material, McLennan tries to fill his audience with far too much garnish, and not enough main course.
Photo courtesy of Project Arts Centre. Runs until 3rd May.