Review: Abducting Diana at the Hen and Chickens Theatre

The media has long had the power to influence (some might say manipulate) our hearts and minds – but 2018 seems a particularly relevant moment for a revival of Dario Fo’s Abducting Diana, if only to prove that we’ve learnt nothing since the play was first written in 1986.

Media tycoon Diana Forbes McKaye is in the middle of a romantic liaison with a guy called Kevin when she’s kidnapped by three masked figures. However, she quickly turns the tables on her incompetent abductors and concocts a plan to cut out the middleman, make them all rich, and save her own skin. Quite straightforward, you might think. Except that Diana isn’t really Diana, Kevin isn’t really Kevin, there’s a man in the fridge with electrodes attached to his halluxes (that’s his big toes to you and me)… and where did that priest with the big nose come from?

As you might imagine, everything gets rather chaotic, rather quickly, with existing characters switching allegiances, and new ones popping up just when you thought the story couldn’t get any more complicated. Such is the air of general mayhem that the play almost forgets to make its point, and the characters have to return to the stage in the final moments to remind us why we’re all there – namely, corruption in high places and the exploitation of the working classes (in this scenario the hapless kidnappers, who seem to come out of every allegiance a bit worse off).

The company are enthusiastic and deliver some strong comedy performances, although in all but two cases, Fo’s characters don’t give them a huge amount of material to work with. As the only one of the three kidnappers we really get to know, Marius Clements has the thankless task of delivering most of his lines from inside a fridge, but rises to the occasion with spot-on comic timing. And Elena Clements plays Diana with cool sophistication and withering sarcasm, keeping her head when all around her are losing theirs – which has the unfortunate side effect of leaving us a bit confused over whether we’re supposed to cheer or boo her resourcefulness.

There are a few issues with Michael Ward’s production; not all the chaos feels entirely deliberate, and there are times – particularly when everyone’s on stage at once – when pace and volume could both come down a notch to ensure the audience is able to keep up with the plot’s more complex twists and turns. It’s also not very clear when the play is set; some of the biggest laughs are inspired by the kidnappers donning masks that feature the faces of Trump, Farage, Boris and the like – but while these topical references to the ruling elite make perfect sense in light of the play’s message, they feel confusingly out of place in a room where people still use typewriters, tape recorders and cheque books.

If you’re after sharp political commentary, Abducting Diana is possibly not the play you’re looking for. What it does offer, however, is high-energy, absurdist fun, performed by a committed cast who are obviously enjoying themselves immensely. Though at times a little unpolished, the play promises an hour of farcical mayhem, and on that score it certainly delivers.

Abducting Diana is at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until 17th March.

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Review: The Tricycle at the Blue Elephant Theatre

In 1962, Fernando Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement, a collective of artists whose aim was to create theatre that was surreal and shocking. Although it was written a decade earlier, these are two adjectives that very accurately sum up Arrabal’s The Tricycle, which has been revived in a new production translated and directed by Jesús Chavero of Bright South Theatre. In the play, teenagers Apal, Climando and Mita resort to murder to get their hands on some money so they can pay for a tricycle they’ve hired. Though we don’t see any actual violence (there’s plenty of blood and gore, but poetically, this is portrayed by red petals scattered across the stage), the play’s powerful shock value lies in the casual attitude of the characters towards their intended crime, and the ease with which they later justify their actions.

However, it’s not quite as black and white as it sounds. The characters’ genuine amazement when they realise they’re in trouble confirms our belief that they’re not bad people, they just don’t understand that they’ve done anything wrong. Prior to their fateful encounter with the Man With The Banknotes, Climando (Andrew Gichigi) is a cheeky chappy who spends most of his time clowning around, flirting with Mita (Lakshmi Khabrani), having nonsensical arguments with The Old Man (Simon Lammers), and trying to get Apal (Arif Alfaraz) to stay awake more than a couple of minutes at a time. It’s all very childlike and innocent, albeit with a slightly sinister twist (at one point, Climando and Mita cheerfully encourage each other to commit suicide), and in a strange way it’s easy to brush off the bit where the friends murder someone as an unfortunate blip – not forgivable by any means, but perhaps almost understandable.

This is probably because in the killers’ eyes their crime was simply something that needed to be done, and not an act of malice. They’re poor and nobody wants to help them, so the only logical response for them is to help themselves. The decision to relocate the play to London gives its themes of poverty and social rejection more immediacy, and asks the audience to consider how much we really blame these outcasts for what they’ve done, and how much responsibility should fall on a society that put them in such a desperate position in the first place.

An example of Spanish Absurdist theatre, The Tricycle is undoubtedly an odd little play, but it’s also strangely endearing, thanks to the obvious passion of the company, and the cast’s infectious and energetic performances (except Apal, obviously, who spends most of his time asleep on a bench). The production features a surprising amount of laughter, a lot of fast-moving word play – so much so that it becomes hard to keep up with the increasingly heated arguments – and some impressive, and unexpected, acrobatics. This light-hearted treatment of the play’s dark, challenging themes makes for an intriguing blend; an acquired taste, perhaps, but one I wouldn’t mind getting used to.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉