The Chicken Trial review at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh – ‘zips along but lacks depth’
In Sweden in 2008 a conceptual artist was controversially convicted for animal cruelty after taking a handful of chickens to an animal-themed night at a club. The resulting trial descended into real-life farce, recreated here – as part of Finland’s From Start to Finnish programme with an all-Scottish cast – with dramatic embellishments by Johanna Koljonen, who covered the original trial with awed disbelief.
Across an effectively simple courtroom setup, dim prosecutor and bullish defender mangle the salient points of the case, prod their witnesses into making ever more surreal statements as to what did or didn’t happen, and trundle out experts who debate whether chickens breathe through their feathers. Their misguided arguments for or against freedom of expression are presided over by a bemused judge as the artist wearily responds to cross examination while making ironic asides to the audience.
The cast of Eliza Langland, Colin Moncrieff, Eunice Olumide and Arron Usher, in cahoots with director Fredrik Lundqvist, work hard with Koljonen’s zippy provocative script, here in a witty translation by Samuel Ek from the original Swedish, to create a multi-pronged attack on society punctuated by Goons-style gags and motifs.
Ultimately, however, for all their efforts, the production lacks depth. In order to play hi-octane absurdist satire of this order, for a UK audience at least, it really needs another layer to make its case convincingly – a realistic no-holds barred attack such as The Thick of It, or OTT grotesque as in Grand Guignol complete with make-up and sinister set.