Review: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Theatre… at Chickenshed

Returning to the Chickenshed studio for 2023, the North London theatre’s annual showcase of new writing focuses this year on the theme of storytelling. Unlike previous years, there’s no single opportunity to see all nine plays in one go, so each performance consists of four or five short pieces, each very different but all equally promising, which take the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions. Last night I saw four: Feedback by Sebastian Ross, All Too Seeing by Idil Aydinli, My Mother Once Asked Me by Sara Chernaik and Dark Immortal by Cathy Jansen-Ridings.

First up was Feedback, in which the successful but wildly insecure writer and director (Daryl Bullock) of a five-star, smash hit play happens to get stuck in a lift with the one person who was underwhelmed by her “experience” (Ellie Morton). As a reviewer, the play presents a slightly nerve-wracking scenario – although in this case, the dissenting voice isn’t a critic but just a regular member of the public who found herself at the theatre by chance. She can’t understand why her opinion matters so much in the face of such critical acclaim, and he’s convinced she must have an ulterior motive for slandering his creation – well, that or she’s just too stupid to understand it. Under Beth Fox’s direction, the broken down lift predicament heightens the tension nicely, and although the piece in general is very funny, it also asks some really interesting questions about the nature of criticism and who deserves to have a voice when discussing art.

All Too Seeing by Idil Aydinli. Photo credit: Elia Criscuoli

All Too Seeing, which is written, directed and performed by Idil Aydinli, is an extraordinarily powerful piece about a young woman who’s spent years cultivating a public persona as the life and soul of the party, the epitome of confidence and competence. But behind the scenes things are very different, and as she struggles to come to terms with a recent loss, she realises that perhaps her secrets are no longer hidden from the one person whose opinion always mattered the most. As the play goes on, the lines between her two world begin to blur, and it becomes harder to distinguish what’s really happening from what she wants us to see. It’s incredibly well written and performed, and the direction is extremely clever; this definitely feels like a piece that could go on to bigger things.

My Mother Once Asked Me is in some ways similar, in that it also looks at how we deal with loss, but presented very differently. Directed by Paul Harris, the protagonist (Julie Wood) greets us from her armchair, where she sits reflecting on a conversation she once had with her mother. This memory sparks another, and another – building up into a patchwork of nostalgia that ricochets from one story to the next. The play doesn’t flow in the usual narrative sense, and can at times get a bit confusing as we try to remember if we’ve heard of this person before, or what the connection was with that name. But ultimately, it all comes together in quite a lovely way, with a reminder that though we may lose loved ones, they’re never really gone, and that how we choose to remember them is a deeply personal choice.

Our evening concluded with the delightfully silly Dark Immortal. Directed by Sebastian Ross, it’s easily the most ambitious of the four pieces I saw in terms of effects and costumes, and sees a depressed Dracula (Paul Harris) realising that immortality may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Luckily his loyal and long-suffering servant Ana-Marjena (Sarah Driver) has a plan, and calls on her friend Gabriel D’Angelo (Benedict Lawson) to try and cheer her boss up. Unsurprisingly, things don’t turn out quite as she intended – but even in the presence of pure evil, there are plenty of laughs to be had as Gabriel gamely soldiers on in his attempts at therapy. I can imagine this piece being developed into a longer show; I’d definitely watch it, as there’s bags of potential in the dysfunctional relationships between the characters, and it felt like we were only just getting to know them when the play ended.

Dark Immortal by Cathy Jansen-Ridings. Photo credit: Elia Criscuoli

I can’t speak for the remaining five pieces*, but if their quality is as good as those I saw last night, anyone seeing them is set for a great evening. As ever it’s fascinating to see how different writers interpret the same theme, through laughter or tears, fantasy or deeply personal reality. And it’s good too to see the annual performance of new writing at Chickenshed continuing to grow and develop from year to year. More please!

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Theatre… continues at Chickshed until 18th February.

* The other five pieces are Bullet in My Heart by Rebecca Hardy, Spectrum by Hussain Raza, Rallying Cry by Julie Dogliani, Storytelling by Carmel Gayle, and Good To Be Alive by Paul Harris.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.