Anna Jordan’s London-anchored tragedy moves its audience from laugh to gasp with tantalising delicacy and the playwright’s wide-angled lens leaves it up to the individual as to where the play’s heart lies. One angle shows us the unlikely relationship between the vulnerable 16-year-old Hendrix, and Luminita; a young woman, victim to the brutality of the sex trade, forced into prostitution and imprisoned above a chicken shop. Beside this, we see Hendrix’s relationship with his foggy-eyed hippy mother, unable to connect with her adolescent son. Each character’s journey, whether across seas or from childhood to adulthood, strikes a different nerve with an equally poignant twang on the heartstrings. Whichever way you look, there’s trouble.
A shaky first scene presents us with an 100% organic household, precariously ticking on with gags about the dangers of Kellogg’s and PlayStation 2s, and we are welcomed into Hendrix’s unconventional family’s living room in a long-winded stream of dialogue greatly in need of cutting. However, don’t let the first scene deter you – five minutes in you’ll be hooked by the tantalisingly heart-rending Luminita, whom Lucy Roslyn endows with tragic poise.
Two worlds collide when, in a desperate attempt to prove his masculinity in response to homophobic bullying – his mother is gay, so he must be too – Hendrix meets Luminita. What begins as an attempt to lose his virginity quickly develops into an unlikely friendship. All Luminita eats is the chicken from the shop below, so Hendrix brings her fruit (we can’t help noting he chooses an apple) not failing to tell her that “the apple’s organic, but the orange isn’t”. The inevitable tragedy comes in Hendrix naively failing to understand the danger of Luminita’s situation until it’s too late. Jesse Rutherford is a courageous and captivating Hendrix, agonising to watch in his understated depiction of a vulnerable boy on the edge of manhood. The writing provides expertly timed comic relief, much of it in Hendrix’s maturity juxtaposed against his intrinsic innocence.
Tender moments are placed next to scenes between Luminita and her pimp, John Last’s 360 degrees evil Leko, which should be enough to make you sick. Yet, there’s something in the horror that keeps your eyes fixed on the stage. The honesty with which Roslyn endows Luminita’s reactions affords the piece a delicacy and avoids an in-yer-face voyeurism. We are granted thinking space in Luminita’s subtlety and Jemma Gross’ direction is, dare I say it given the subject matter, tasteful, and of course, as Epsilon’s philosophy suggests, simple. Gross and her talented cast keep their audience active and engaged without baring too many teeth to frighten them off.
What could perhaps be missed, beneath the loud exclamations of the male adolescent supposed need for meat, motorbikes and filthy magazines, is that this is a story of femininity, as much as masculinity. It’s not only Hendrix’s character wandering and lost in place. From the slightly over-ripe Millie Reeves as Katie to Roslyn’s tragic Luminita, these men and women are adrift in a world full of violence and danger, be it as the victim of school bullying or of brutal sexual violence.
The intimate studio space of Park 90 focuses us inwards, and Florence Hazard’s three-room design reminds us just how close love and abuse can stand to one another when they can feel worlds apart. This honest play presents us with the dividing bridges between human beings; their sexualities, genders, ages, and then burns them all before us. Amidst the horror of the carnage however, Jordan sheds a glimmer of light on how our differences can bring us closer together, and maybe even save us… just unfortunately not this time.
Chicken Shop is playing at the Park Theatre until 28 September. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website. Photo by Kim Hardy.