Theatre review: Happy New at the Old Red Lion

Brothers abandoned by their mother in a chicken coop become celebrities in this black comedy

Two boys, one girl, the drunken excitement of a new year fuelled by alcohol and the vain hope of better things to come.

Happy New sets the stage for what at first looks like a regular situation comedy. But once a chicken takeaway is hurled through the open window of their flat, things take a turn for the bizarre.

Brothers Danny (Alfred Enoch) and Lyle (Joel Samuels) have had an unusual upbringing – aged 10 and 12 they were abandoned by their mother in a chicken coop for months on end.

It may sound ridiculous, but when it transpires that starvation forced them to kill and eat the chickens they had slowly become attuned to, their story is tinged with horror and sadness.

Once finally freed and put into care they become modern-day celebrities, pursued and persecuted by the public. It’s a traumatic new life that becomes even more sinister when TV producer Pru (Josie Taylor) takes advantage of their newfound fame.

This dark comedy by Australian playwright Brendan Cowell is executed well with a strong and fast paced script that has touches of lyrical genius. But it is perhaps too lengthy for such an intense story, which is certainly more macabre than comical.

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The cast carry their demanding roles with ease. Enoch and Samuels roam about the stage like violent balls of angst, for the most part shouting or clucking, while Taylor masters a controlling and arrogant character with an eerie sweetness.

* Happy New is at the Old Red Lion Theatre in St John Street, EC1, until February 25, 2012.