It was Irish actor and musician Oscar McLennan’s voice – both the vocal instrument and his use of language – that attracted Adelaide Festival director David Sefton’s attention.
And it is indeed a wonderful thing, with McLennan rolling words around his mouth like lollies, and his writing, at times, showing an almost virtuosic quality.
Unfortunately in this show – which was commissioned by Sefton especially for the Festival and had its world premiere on Saturday night – the effect of his voice is diminished by a lack of coherence.
In a very uncomfortable and airless Queen’s Theatre, the stage was set simply with a chair and table.
McLennan’s character is quickly established – he lives alone, is full of bravado and musings on all kinds of topics, but is actually isolated and awkward. He likes to pass the time by having staring competitions with a fly.
He falls asleep and thus begins a mix of furious monologue interspersed with folksy songs and multimedia projections which don’t seem to add much to proceedings.
The themes covered are familiar – existential pain, the futility of war, and the loneliness of social anxiety – but each is dealt with quickly, and without much apparent interconnection (apart from the obvious).
There is little plot. We learn almost nothing of the character’s background or the circumstances which led to his predicament (there is a hint at lost love).
There are incidents which seem to signify something, but we don’t know what (at one point McLennan puts on a coat to sing a song about his goldfish, completes the tune, then takes off the coat).
The show is at its most interesting when McLennan cranks up into a full-blown rant – like a poetry slam – including one memorable section when a story about a train delayed in an underground tunnel explodes into a nightmarish frenzy of phobia and fear.
Gentle, folksy songs punctuate the show, and Martin Tourish’s excellent and plaintive accordion provides the soundtrack.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that the show is based on a novel by McLennan set in London in the 1980s. The whole thing has the chaotic share-house feel of the 1980s television show The Young Ones (including surrealist interludes), albeit with most of the jokes and several of the characters removed. Several of the themes are the same.
The finale is triumphantly nihilistic, as the circle of futility is completed.
There are arresting moments along the way but I was left feeling that the sum of the whole was somewhat less than its parts – some of which are very good.
Kiss of the Chicken King plays again at the Queen’s Theatre on March 4.
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