Theatre review: Chicken Shop at the Park Theatre

In 2009, Anna Jordan read an article about a raid on a secret brothel located over her local chicken shop in Hounslow. The dawning realisation of horror close to home forms the spine of her provocative 2011 piece, debuting at Park Theatre.

Through smart lighting cues and sliding transitions, Jemma Gross’s staging links the two worlds: the domestic realm of mop-haired 16-year-old Hendrix (Jesse Rutherford), grappling with school bullies and parental drama, and the stifling prison of forced prostitute Luminita (Lucy Roslyn). Desperate to prove his manhood, Hendrix pays poignantly awkward Luminita for ‘the girlfriend experience’, but his coming of age takes a traumatic course when he comprehends the extent of her suffering.

The hero rushing to the aid of the hooker with a heart of gold is a perilously clichéd set-up, but perceptive writing and understated performances ground the action in the disturbingly familiar.

Jordan focuses on minutiae, with great support from Florence Hazard’s design, offering revolting rather than romanticised squalor. When Hendrix opens the window – forbidden by Luminita’s odious pimp (John Last) – joy, release, grief and yearning cross Roslyn’s face in a heartstopping moment.

Conversely, the overlong home scenes stall. Hendrix’s forthright, cause-loving mother (Angela Bull) and her sexpot lover (Millie Reeves) remain types, the latter grating until she lets her mask slip to reveal venom beneath. Stronger are the issues touched upon, including the increased sexualisation of our culture and challenges a lesbian mother faces in raising a son.

Rutherford, excellent throughout, captures the frustrated inexperience of someone on the cusp of adulthood, though both his total naïveté and lack of contemporary tropes like social media date the play. Still, Jordan adeptly contrasts the difficulties of someone with boundless choices and those of one whose world has shrunk to mere survival. We know that difference intellectually, but seeing it first-hand in searing drama is a powerful experience.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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