Anyone that knows me will tell you the last place you’ll find me is sat in chicken shop in Stratford or any London district for that matter! But the strangest thing happened a few Friday nights ago, I found myself in a magical place called “Chicken Palace”, with a box of chicken and chips and a can of Ting- (Fizzy Caribbean Grapefruit juice). Now I can hear you screaming “What Eleanor!!!!” Have no fear my good people -this was not your average 3 am after a night of heavy drinking. No. This was at the very civilised time of 7pm where in front of me, the chicken shop was turned into a theatre experience, and the set for the evenings events.
When I arrived at the Theatre, I was asked to wait with a group of people in the corridor. I’d never been there and was struck with the interior. It seemed rather lived in and very well used, which is good to see, yet still managing to retain its old fashioned features to create a fantastic fusion of old and new.
We were given a programme by the lady who greeted us; this was cleverly designed in the style of a chicken shop menu which I thought was a lovely touch.
The destination was right next to the theatre under a block of flats; it was a retail space which had been turned into a chicken shop complete with a counter, chairs, tables and big menu board.
When we entered the store and we were given a box of chicken and chips and made our way to one of the seats on the side of the shop. There were about six tables in the middle with reserved signs for you to book or two rows of chairs down the outside of the shop looking into the middle of the space. Behind the counter was a tall boy with a hair net and apron and another boy sitting at one of the tables with hoody, tracksuit and beanie on. The music was pumping and the audience had all started to tuck into their meal. The chicken by the way was delicious, it was perfectly spiced, very moist, and fried but not at all greasy.
After about 10 minutes a third actor walked in, started cleaning the tables with a cloth and as the music was dimed, the performance began.
An hour later and the cast were taking their final bow, and I was for once completely speechless. This was due to many contributing factors, for one the setting; I have always loved site specific theatre as it seems, to me, unrealistic to think that every scenario that you could want to play out is suited to a proscenium stage. Removing us from the theatre and putting us into Chicken Palace, meant that we were much more absorbed into that world possibly even before the actors started performing than we otherwise would have been.
This brings me onto the second factor, the immersive nature of the acting. Again I have a soft spot for immersive theatre, which I suppose comes from my personal wish to escape the reality of day to day life via the vessel of a performance. The performance given was in such a way that I did not feel as though I was in a theatre watching a play about a chicken shop, nor did I feel that I was watching it through the glass; I was inside the shop, at a table, eating my chicken and chips which resulted in a much more genuine experience.
The format for this play was a “whodunit” and we as an audience were constantly trying to work out who had committed the murder. The group had all ended up seeking refuge in this Chicken Shop . Using this “whodunit” meant that we were already in the mood to cast aspersions. This is one of the reasons I would volunteer for it being such an amazing forum to highlight the issues with stereotyping people, be that by race, culture, political stance, social standing or purely physical appearance. The performance aided you in making your own unfounded accusations and strung you along for just enough time for you to feel confident in your judgement of the characters swiftly after which there would be some information presented that showed the characters in a completely different light making you instantly change and regret your previous accusation.
For me it was amazing, like nothing I have ever seen before. On leaving the theatre to go home I walked through the Stratford shopping centre, only to find the music was pumping and it was full of kids on bikes, roller blades, and skate boards all whizzing around practising tricks and socialising. I think I stood there for almost 20 minutes watching them. And as I watched, all of the messages from the play seemed to hit me at once.
Unfortunately this was a limited performance for only five days. However I very much hope that it will be put on again, because this is something that many people from all different backgrounds simply have to see.