Pros: A brilliantly original venue placing the audience firmly at the centre of the action.
Cons: The wafer thin plot weakens what could have been an innovative production.
Theatre Royal Stratford East always sets a high benchmark. For this show I was surprised when the audience were led away from TRSE to an adjoining building into Singh’s Chicken Palace, the fast food joint ‘where taste is queen!’ A perfectly spiced chicken meal was handed out as we took our seats, doubling as customers watching the action slowly unfold around us. Familiar stereotypes arrived at regular intervals; Adesh, shop manager and boss’s son keen to impress; Jade, plump shop assistant with attitude to spare; Stephen, likable drifter with designs on Jade; Zofia, attractive Polish immigrant with something to prove; Sophie, local girl apparently made good; Jamie, new gentry irritating the natives; and Kai, mysterious army veteran with a dark secret.
Jovial shop banter is soon disturbed when Sophie bursts in screaming that something terrible has happened. A radio broadcast advises there is an emergency in the Stratford area and residents should remain indoors until further instructed. Police sirens and helicopters echo around the shop as the tension cranks up; Adesh locks the doors as occupants dig in for the duration. Cabin fever kicks in as fingers point and accusations fly – could the culprit be inside the shop?
This is where the plot begins to wobble: a radio announcement would never be made without specifying the emergency – a murderer on the loose, escaped convict, gas leak, or bomb scare? It eventually becomes clear, but it’s irritating not having the detail and I felt this damages the play’s credibility. The characters’ ensuing paranoia illustrates perfectly why such information would never be withheld.
While the characters are well drawn, their motivation isn’t absolutely clear. This may be due to the running time of the play: sixty minutes isn’t long enough to flesh out seven characters enough to make the story properly hang together. Another half an hour would have made this an excellent play as opposed to a promising idea requiring further development. The cast were solid and dependable; particular stand-outs were Juliet Okotie as the gobby Jade, throwing bargain buckets at customers to great comic effect; and Maria Louis as blonde beauty Zofia, ruthlessly exploiting Jade’s indifference to customer service. However, the star turn was Ray Sesay as the battle weary Kai, who showed real presence. Even when he had no dialogue, you still noticed him and wondered what he was thinking; a notable talent and definitely one to watch.
Author: Lynette Linton
Director: Marcus Ellard and Lynette Linton
Producer: Theatre Royal Stratford East
Booking Until: This show has now completed its run.
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking Link: http://www.stratfordeast.com/