One of VAULT Festival’s dingier performance spaces, the Cavern, is warmed by the conspiratorial presence of Bronya Deutsch, the solo performer of Comrade Egg and the Chicken of Tomorrow.
A Lecoq-trained movement artist, Deutsch fills the room with manic energy as she welcomes us into the surreal setting of the weekly meeting of the ‘Chicken Appreciation Society’. Audience participation is mandatory and begins early, as we are all commanded to stand and recite the ‘chicken pledge’, nibble seeds from her hands with our ‘beaks’ and, for one lucky audience member, to improvise a ‘chicken history’ lecture on the fly. As the piece continues it only gets weirder; elements of it feel a bit like the sort of dream you have when you have the flu. However, it has certain charm to it, much of which comes from Deutsch’s skill as a performer.
Very quickly it becomes apparent that ensemble theatre company Mother Bunch are employing the old ‘bait and switch’ of using comedy and clowning as a vehicle to get to a more serious message, or (in this case) to send any meat-eaters in the room on a major guilt trip.
Deutsch’s antics are disarmingly silly as well as entertaining. Both the absurdism and the message are comparable to Simon Amstell’s excellent mockumentary Carnage, in which the apparent mockery of a totally vegan utopian society is undercut by serious messaging. The use of comedy is effective in both cases as a means to draw attention to the inhumanity of the commercialised meat industry, the mass cruelty and slaughter in which our whole society is complicit.
Comrade Egg and the Chicken of Tomorrow also imparts a heavy-handed critique of capitalism which is nonetheless quite informative. We learn how the unassuming Cornish Cross became the most populous breed of bird on the planet (spoiler alert: it’s because they are able to grow so fat so quickly that they cannot support their own weight). We are enlightened to the horrific life-cycle of your average ‘broiler chicken’ (which gets from egg to abattoir to dining room table in the span of 5 weeks) and encouraged the anthropomorphise them by thinking of them as ‘roast babies’. This last point is driven home by a rather gruesome moment of whole raw chicken puppetry.
One thing missing, however, is any emphasis on the environmental impact of the meat industry. Nowadays it seems more common (in younger people at least) to cite sustainability reasons for their vegetarianism or veganism, rather than cruelty to animals. In place of this discussion is the strong anarchical undercurrent, encouraging you rise up against the industrialised death and those who profit from the mass-scale suffering of innocent animals.
For this reason ultimately, this show doesn’t quite doesn’t quite hit the right tone for me. But it is an entertaining addition to the discourse around the meat industry, and it might make you rethink your ‘cheeky Nandos’.
Comrade Egg and the Chicken of Tomorrow played on 21 February. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.