Review written by Flossie Waite
Presented by DNA Puppetry and Visual Theatre
Half Moon Theatre
For ages 3 – 6
Chicken Licken does the seemingly impossible – appealing to 3 – 6 year olds and fans of The Great British Bake Off. Adam Bennett is the only star of this one-man cookery show, casually making bread – Mary Berry herself can’t match his self-assured style and natural relationship with the viewers. Though performing classic stories, the audience genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next, and even more remarkably, it seems Bennett might not either. He makes a production that has been around for 15 years feel as fresh as a newly-baked loaf.
That’s not to say Bennett is a master baker – he makes an awful (but delightful) mess. Throughout, however, he has the audience in the palm of his flour-covered hands. There’s an audible gasp and holding of breath as an egg is thrown in the air, before he chucks it over his head and under his knee, juggling with multiple ingredients (and even a rolling pin) with an understated confidence that is constantly apparent.
A great example of this is when Bennett realizes that, though the recipe calls for them, he has run out of eggs. He stares in increasing horror between the empty egg box, the recipe book, and the bowl, allowing the moment to play on and ensuring it gets funnier and funnier. When he does hunt down an egg from the coop, he cracks it and a baby chick pops out. His confidence extends to the audience: “What shall we call her?’ Chicken…”, trusting that a little voice will respond with “Licken”.
Once Chicken Licken has arrived, the production begins to tell three stories: Chicken Licken, The Little Red Hen, and The Fox and The Hen. The cookery set up transforms into the set – wooden spoons and tea towels become a front for shadow puppetry, puppets appear from dough. Bennett alone does all the set changing, controls the many characters, and guides the story. The result is quite a bit of chaos, but this production revels in it, with puppets swooping and chasing around the space.
The play cleverly handles performing well-known tales, using this as an opportunity to involve the audience in a self-aware way. Bennett asks, “You’ve read the book, what happens next?”; given the answer, he begrudgingly agrees: “Oh okay.” The production shies away from just re-telling; the tales are molded to serve the performance, just like Bennett stretching and shaping the bread. Chicken Licken is saved from an unfortunate end by the puppeteer: “You need to live to be in the next story.” It’s more interesting to see these reinterpretations that give us a taste of the traditional stories.
It does all end a bit suddenly, like a book quickly snapped shut. However, when it comes to making to children’s theatre, it’s clear DNA Puppetry and Visual Theatre are part of the upper crust.
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