Happy New is the tale of two brothers who, as children, were abandoned by their mother and forced to live like animals in a cramped chicken coop. Starved of all human interaction, Danny and Lyle began clucking and pecking as they embodied the physicalities of the chickens that surrounded them. Now in their twenties, the pair are still haunted by their time in the coop and Brendan Cowell’s play explores their struggle to assimilate into mainstream society.
Thrust into the spotlight, Danny and Lyle are unwillingly grilled and exploited by the vulture-like press. Lyle’s fragility is exposed when he breaks down during a television interview, pleading to be left alone and sobbing that no-one would ever be able to come close to understanding the suffering they had endured.
The main thing that struck me about this production was the ease with which they are able to convert the concept of being raised by chickens into something so believable. The piece begins with Danny (William Troughton) and Lyle (Joel Samuels) bantering and pampering themselves; their close brotherly bond is very apparent. However, despite their best efforts, Troughton and Samuels are often hindered by dialogue that is too wordy and overloaded with puns. Luckily the piece soon warms up with the arrival of Danny’s girlfriend, Pru, played brilliantly by Lisa Dillon. Pru’s character is a fascinating one as she encourages Lyle to brave life beyond the confines of their apartment, yet also perversely seems to enjoy it when he reverts back to chicken-like behaviour.
A flashback to their life in the coop forms the climax of the play. Removing the linen from the two on-stage beds reveals that the bases of them are made entirely out of chicken wire. These are then turned on their sides to recreate the claustrophobic chicken coop. For me, the idea that they that have been sleeping inches away from their former prison all along was quite heart-wrenching. Lily Arnold’s bed design could be viewed as a physical representation of their neglect and suffering, cementing it as a chapter in their lives that they will never be able to recover from or wipe from their minds.
Happy New is a dark comedy which left me feeling emotionally raw. It may also make you think twice about going for a Nando’s after the show.
Happy New is playing at Trafalgar Studios until June 29. For more information and tickets please visit the ATG website.