The Magic Chicken | Theatre BeatingIn a return season of Theatre Beating’s, Magic Chicken, the audience follows the adventures (or should that be misadventures?) of Ethel, a golden egg laying chicken, after she stumbles across two bumbling chefs in a run-down cartoon kitchen & bistro whilst being hotly pursued by the Evil Eric.
Described as a gastronomic slapstick comedy mixing elements of mime, puppetry, physical comedy and live music; the antics are reminiscent of screen heroes Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati.
Geoff Pinfield, director and producer of the New Zealand outfit, summed up the show in a radio interview as “part Fawlty Towers part Sesame Street part Ren & Stimpy and part of your weirdest nightmare.” What a very apt description indeed.
The anarchist kitchen with its stylised doodle-inspired design is deceptively simple and very effective. The colour palette – white lines on black resembling chalk art makes, in particular, the red of the chefs’ aprons & their makeup visually arresting. In fact, at times, they seem superimposed against the set. And having the two rooms divided by a wall with saloon-style doors, with the action happening simultaneously in both, gives you the impression that you’re watching a split screen.
My 7 year old was completely enthralled by the set design and prior to the house lights going down, bombarded me with questions cum statements: “hey, look at the cracks in the plaster? Look at the spider web, hey, is that a real fire extinguisher? When does it start?” On and on it went. He wasn’t the only one, so there was definite engagement right from the start and the set and props department deserve credit for their attention to detail.
And what of the characters? To me, there’s always a sense of vulnerability with mime acts and these were no exception. You feel fond and protective of Toot who develops an immediate affection for Ethel (not like that, it’s not that subversive) and Collins who’s sporting the most ridiculously tall chef hat that you’re constantly laughing at. Inadvertently, they become Ethel’s saviours pitted against Evil Eric (played so menacingly by Kai Smythe). He’s a brute of a character that gets his comeuppance, as you’d expect.  Puppeteer Jonathan Brugh does a remarkable job (garbed in all black Ninja wear) from suspending our belief that he’s even on stage. Ethel’s one likeable chicken that’s got incredibly cute feet and knows how to use them.
The musical score played live on stage by the Beat Root Boys, John Bell & Matthew Armitage, really constitute another character.  In many instances, the music including synchronised sound effects underpins the frenetic action on stage with a combination of guitar, keyboard, trumpet and percussion.
I particularly liked the inclusion of Ennio Morricone’s theme from the Good, The Bad and the Ugly during one of the extremely entertaining, cleverly choreographed (yet somehow managing to look oh so spontaneous) slo-mo fight scenes.
Staged at the Fairfax Studio in the Arts Centre, it’s the perfect venue for this type of show. The intimate space allows the audience the privilege of seeing the performers exaggerated facial expressions up close and encourages their participation. Audience members were pelted with chunks of raw potato, grains and water and the layout also allowed chase sequences to play out up & down the aisles. Much to the shrieks and delight of the children.
So to those of you with a 5 – 9 year old who’s into OTT food fights, culinary explosions, fireworks and pop culture references, I definitely recommend this 50 minutes of charming mayhem as a delectable school holiday treat.

Arts Centre Melbourne presents Theatre Beating’s

Director Geoff Pinfield

Venue: Fairfax Studio | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 8 – 12 July 2015
Times: 11am & 2pm
Tickets: $26
Bookings: | 1300 182 183

Non-verbal performance: This performance is suitable for children and families with a hearing impairment

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