Still Life with Chickens
Director: Fasitua Amosa
Review Date: 7/4/2018
The Billboard for this production showed a woman holding a chicken and the title--Still Life with Chickens. The woman was exuding a Polynesian vibe and further investigation uncovered that this show promised to be a comedy about a woman talking to a chicken. Why was I excited to go?
The Centrepoint Theatre has been consistently delivering high-quality performances so I attend expecting satisfaction—plus comedy is my favourite genre. The programme revealed that Still Life with Chickens won ‘Best Play 2017’ in the Adam NZ Awards so all signs were encouraging.
Set in a functional backyard furnished with a vegetable garden and a washing line ‘Mama’ played by Goretti Chadwick moves slowly about—like a tired old woman— delivering a simple yet revealing narrative about the ins and outs of her life. At the surface level this is comedic and entertaining, but beneath the tough facade that slips occasionally we get a look at what simmers beneath.
Goretti expertly delivers the role of Mama, so that we are both fearful and fond of her in equal measure. Goretti’s real life age is a mystery to me— at a guess anywhere from twenty-five to sixty years old— but a combination of costume and great acting made her believably a very old Mama. Her confidence in delivering comedy was effortless and the emotional range that she visited had me along for the ride, at times having a lump in my throat and at times laughing.
Quite surprising, was finding that the chicken was a puppet (this was no lame duck but a high-class chicken puppet). How I expected a real-life chicken to participate I don’t know, but I hadn’t been prepared for it to appear in the form of a puppet. I inwardly cringed when I realised that a puppet was coming out but it turns out I didn’t need to get into a flap about it. Puppeteer Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson played a strong role as the chicken but simultaneously seemed to not exist on stage. Somehow he magically seemed to become part of the background which is hard to believe considering he was miked up and making chicken noises. While the chicken was an active part of the play, Haanz’s ability to channel all his energy into the chicken meant that his own presence on stage was minimally noticed. The chicken pecked its way through the layers of Mama’s tough exterior revealing her inner vulnerabilities.
Lighting was used to great effect along with excellent sound technique to support what was essentially a one-woman, one-chicken show. A nice bright set was well used and a well chosen place to show how mundane housework can germinate philosophical musings.
Still Life with Chickens (I love the naming of this play) is a short but sweet show, lasting for just one hour. But, as with most high-quality things you don’t need to consume huge amounts to be totally satisfied. This show is still brooding away in my mind as I think about all that it revealed; it won’t be forgotten soon.
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