It’s my first time back at the Hen and Chickens since Covid and I am thrilled to see it buzzing with life. I am also more than ready for some good old laughs about the situation we have found ourselves in. There is a difference between chatting to your friends about what we have all been through and watching it literally play out in front of your eyes, and this piece offers some much-needed healing.
Coronavirus: A Great British Farce is a dark comedy playing on the ridiculousness and absurdity of our leaders’ approach when it comes to the handling of the pandemic.
We are greeted by the Speaker, wearing a suit and tie, who after a few moments, declares the virus is now officially ‘a thing.’ Opposite the Speaker, is a ‘one of us’ type character, Joe, who is listening carefully to the Speaker’s every word. The Speaker declares that they have graphs galore, full of data on the virus, but that we ‘mustn’t look at that graph too closely.’ We are later reassured on numerous occasions, that the politicians are ‘staying close to the science on that one’, so that’s all right. Our audience is already sold.
This play is just what we needed and fully lives up to its name. Writer Mark Daniels offers us an influx of British coronavirus experiences to reminisce on, from guidelines that are or are not to be followed, panic buying loo roll and a sudden interest in baking banana bread. We are brought together again through the experiences we have faced – from wet wiping tangerines, to observing two people hugging on a TV show and ‘almost throwing up.’
Kathryn Haywood plays the Speaker. I applaud her for her magnificent enthusiasm and impeccable comic timing, and I want to buy her a stiff drink afterwards to help her claw back some of that energy she uses. I also love the performance of Edward Bartram who plays Joe; his perfectly perplexed expressions combined with fabulous vigour, provide the ideal representation of the people when receiving mixed messages from politicians. In fact, without sounding too over the top, I have to say that thanks to Joe, I no longer feel quite so alone.
The play takes a slightly different turn in the final third, whereby both characters start to lose the plot (and I don’t mean just talking to our fridge when we’re bored in lockdown). We are bombarded with renditions of the Lion King, constant references to viennetta ice cream and a giant plant dancing around the stage. My interest wanes a little, because it gets so beyond ridiculous that I struggle to follow what’s going on, but if Daniels is in fact using this scene to mirror the ludicrousness of our government’s response to the pandemic, then job well done.
No one can deny this play is aimed at the liberal, so I for one am left thoroughly satisfied. But there are certainly some things that could be learnt from this piece and enjoyed by everyone (but then I would say that).
Any production about coronavirus is incredibly tricky because it must be done sensitively, which could compromise some of the comedy, but I feel this company get the balance just right, and I highly recommend this play for everything it offers. This play reminds us: hands, face, space…and a little bit of a laughter to see us through.
Coronavirus: A Great British Farce is playing as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until 4 August. For more information and tickets see Hen and Chickens theatre’s website.