Chicken Shop

Anna Jordan’s plays are sex fables for the modern day that everyone must see. Deeply interested in and respectful of the issues she dissects, Jordan draws out their complexities without belittling them with quick, easy solutions. Every interaction is a battle, so quintessentially dramatic and fraught with ambiguity that it is impossible to tell who is right and who is wrong at any given moment. One thing Jordan is clear about however, in both Chicken Shop and her Fringe debut, Freak, is that there is nothing sexy about sexual objectification.

A harrowingly beautiful friendship emerges between the two that brings the nurture of the middle-class family home into the brothel, and the brutality of the brothel into the family home.

Chicken Shop is the coming-of-age tale of the hopelessly lost teenager, Hendrix. Controlled by his well-intentioned but ultimately hypocritical mother, teased by her scantily clad and provocative younger girlfriend, bullied by his homophobic classmates, and enticed by the violent pornography ‘that everyone at school is passing round on their iphones everyday’, Hendrix struggles to balance his deep-seated respect for women with his rebellious, testosterone-fuelled lust. It is indeed baffling that Lyn Gardner demands that Jordan choose between the themes of ‘young masculinity, poor parenting and sexual exploitation’, given that Chicken Shop clearly examines the interplay between these interwoven issues, all of which lead the sixteen-year-old Hendrix into a brothel.

Here Hendrix meets Luminita, a Moldovan woman he can literally ‘do anything he wants to’, and who needs his help desperately. A harrowingly beautiful friendship emerges between the two that brings the nurture of the middle-class family home into the brothel, and the brutality of the brothel into the family home. As we hurtle towards the play’s emotional and indeed sexual climax, we sit tight on the edge of our seats, wondering whether this young man can learn to stand up for himself without becoming a tyrant himself.

This tension is partly due to the breath-taking chemistry between the leads. The adolescent angst and self-scrutiny of Jesse Rutherford’s Hendrix is resonating, and makes maternal instincts tingle at the sight of his constantly drooping shoulders and knitted brows. Similarly, Lucy Roslyn’s Luminita is the image of discomfort from the second we meet her, wavering on her ten-inch sparkly heels. Together and with great sensitivity, Rutherford and Roslyn perform a balancing act of despair, courage and a sweet sense of humour.

Indeed, director Jemma Gross excels at creating seemingly safe spaces, only to tarnish and darken them beyond recognition. Angela Bull and Millie Reeves provide a necessary comic touch in their portrayal of the inappropriate but relatable mother and her excitable Aussie lover, with hippy ideals and yoga postures to match. However, John Last’s pimp, Leko, is terrifying. Last jokes and teases with a smile that is anything but pleasant, before letting loose his orders in their full fury without a moment’s warning. It is this contrast between the two worlds that makes their collision so rewarding.

At one point Luminita declares that ‘sex is different than life’, and the statement lingers eerily, both opposed and confirmed by the play’s events. Asking vital questions about whether it is possible to set up moral guidelines in the realm of desire, Epsilon production’s Chicken Shop is both a tricky and a heart-wrenching piece of theatre.

Reviews by Joanna Alpern

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The Blurb

Hendrix is growing up. Or at least he’s trying to. But he’s sick of his mother and her constant preaching on the virtues of an organic lifestyle. And he’s sick of her girlfriend, a twentysomething stunner who winds him up relentlessly. But most of all he is sick of the bullies at school who target him viciously, thinking if his mum is gay then he must be too.

In a desperate attempt to prove his masculinity, Hendrix enters a very adult world and gets far more than he bargained for. He meets Luminita – a young girl enslaved into an unbearable life. She finds comfort in Hendrix; a chance to connect, to be seen as a human being. Though from completely different worlds, their secret friendship grows in snatched moments in a sordid room above a Chicken Shop.

This World Premier of Chicken Shop by Anna Jordan, 2013 winner of Bruntwood Playwriting Prize, was one of the final ten plays in the Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award 2011, which had over 900 entries. Since then it has been in development with the Soho Literary team and was on the long list for the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Bruntwood Prize 2011. - See more at: