Theatre Review – Blue Hen

May 14 2010 | By More

* *

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

Gritty, earthy and full of the sort of language that ensures it is exclusive to those aged 14 and over, Des Dillon’s Blue Hen tumbles onto the Lyceum stage with a tin of Special Brew in hand and a couple of unopened Buckfast bottles stashed down its trousers.

Des Dillon’s wee Glasgow gadgies, John and Paddy, are brought to life with raw energy by Charles Lawson and Scott Kyle. Their banter is a brilliantly accurate as mourn the death of their pal, Peetsie Finnigan, from who’s wake they have just come, after his tragic suicide.

From before the off, Blue Hen sets itself up to be something special. The pre-curtain music is loud, raucous and sentimental in exactly the way a West Coast wake should be.

For a few fantastic scenes, Dillon sustains that energy. Lawson and Kyle are solid in their creation of two, clearly interdependent misfits. The language drives the production, crude and erudite by turns as the two wonder about what to do next and begin to obsess about turning the drying green of their tenement into a garden with tatties and a chicken coop.

Against the background of their redundancies from the now-closed steel works and the pair’s clear mental health issues, Dillon begins to tread a fascinating path. Here, in an explosion of comedy and pathos that should appeal equally to those who wouldn’t normally be seen dead at the Lyceum, as well as to its regular patrons, is the start of a play that puts its finger on the point of disintegration of a community.

As it follows John and Paddy’s dream, their initial delight at the chicks, their horror as they start killing each other in their cramped, unsanitary coop, the brush with the violence of local hoodlum Bannan (James McAnerney) and the discovery of a prize Blue Hen to breed with their one, remaining red cockerel, Dillon’s intention is clear.

Sadly, all such potential becomes lost as the play begins to turn John and Paddy’s dreams into a reality. It’s not that their fantastical plan of building a chicken coop and rearing twenty wee yellow chicks can’t be brought to the stage. It is just that Dillon, as director, and sound designer Neil McLean do so with such inadequate attention to detail that the whole enterprise falls on its raggedy arse.

It’s clumsy and unalluring. The vernacular writing might be superb, but Dillon’s depiction of Paddy’s Asperger’s syndrome and John’s manic depression are caricatures that he does not follow through. James McAnerney’s depiction of Bannan belongs in a comedy sketch show – when with just a touch more menace it could really turn the whole play round.

The sound design, by which we are supposed to follow the growth of the chickens, is all over the place. It is neither realistic enough to convince, nor is is played completely for the comedy that occasionally intrudes.

There is a shed load of potential to Blue Hen and it could yet become a massive piece of theatre – with a solid rewrite and a strong external director. John and Paddy are no George Milton and Lennie Small while Dillon is no Steinbeck and as it stands, this is an unmitigated disaster.

As it stands, it really only warrants a view for fans of Coronation Street to see Charles Lawson. For that, it gets its extra star. Even then, it is to witness him succeeding in moving with dignity through what is, otherwise, a theatrical car crash.

Run ends Saturday and tours until June 12
Full tour details on the NLP Theatre website


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