By Jerome Studdy Imagine you tuck into a box of KFC chicken nuggets, only to find that each and every one is a nugget of pure gold. That is exactly the experience of watching Still Life with Chickens at Riverside Theatres. What presents as a simple, humble, one-woman-one-chicken show is in fact an absolute treasure and one of the most charming additions to the short play scene that I’ve had the pleasure to see. Equally heart-warming and cheeky, the play is well written, well executed, and wells down into the dynamics and emotion of family and community with dexterity and sensitivity. Before writing any further, everyone involved in this production must be supremely congratulated and thanked for what they have brought to the stage; it is nothing short of beautiful.
Housed within the appropriately intimate Lennox Theatre at Riverside Parramatta, Auckland Theatre Company bring Still Life with Chickens from across the Tasman to tell a story that is specific, insular, and distinct to New Zealand, but at all times universal and welcoming. David Fa’auliuli Mamea has written such wonderful charm into his main character, Mama, as he gently unfolds narrative and motive through intelligent monologue and bilingual script. And with Goretti Chadwick pouring forth endless talent, control, and emotion, it’s no surprise that the story of Mama and Moa the Chicken was so well received.
Mama is an elderly woman; it's just her and the old man now that she's buried their cat Blacki. Cue Moa the chicken; a sweet and expressive little chicken puppet operated by Haanz Fa'avae-Jackson. Suddenly Mama has someone to talk to again. Someone to share her stories with, to share her pain and loneliness with, and to share her KFC chips with. More importantly though, Mama has someone to love again. A beautiful relationship forms as Mama and Moa are cheeky with one another, fiesty, stubborn, and supportive, and even dance and sing together (as physio for Moa's injured wing).
Goretti Chadwick is sublime. A one person show will often threaten to feel empty and awkward, but Chadwick maintains incredible control of tone and pace, working the stage and space to complete success, and managing to fill the auditorium with emotion, connection, laughter, and tears. Congratulations to director Fasitua Amosa for his involvement in achieving this. Accompanied onstage by Haanz Fa'avae-Jackson as the puppeteer for Moa, the two work with a gorgeous chemistry. Fa'avae-Jackson's merit as a puppeteer is clearly apparent. I believe the mark of an excellent puppeteer is when they can direct such focus onto and elicit such personality from their puppet, that they begin to vanish from the space. The audience were hardly aware of Fa'avae-Jackson himself onstage, only his impeccable characterisation of Moa. Even more impressive given he wasn't attempting to blend into the background with black clothing, but rather wore loud, context-specific civvies.
There is so much that could be shared about this production. The best thing to do is to buy your own ticket and indulge in the emotional excursion these incredible artists have constructed. With a neat running time of 45 minutes, this is a perfect addition to any evening, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Still Life with Chickens is a clucking success! Chookas to the cast, crew, and creatives for their continued run!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.