Review by Charlotte Leamon
A 70s rock inspired musical created by siblings Josipa Draisma, Mara Knezevic and Sime Knezevic tells the story of two women working at a chicken processing facility. THE HEN HOUSE talks about themes of migration, class and sexism through song. Through ballads and rock, a live band underscores both tender and powerful moments as we witness Mila — a strong and unafraid Slavic woman, and Croatian Pavica — the rule-abiding forelady who needs respect, battle the ins and outs of a toxic working environment.
The set of this show is vibrant, each member of the band is dressed in colour, as are the two heroines of the story. This matches the fast-paced energy of the musical which delves into a choreographed sequence telling the audience of what a day is like in the chicken factoria (pun-ily pronounced as fucktoria). As the show progresses we understand why Mila is as strong headed as she is, and why Pavica needs this job as forelady in order to support her family. Their storytelling is exquisite, as they adopt accents of perfection and flit between their own characters, their boss “Mr. Gary boss-man”, Pavica’s husband and Joy the optimistic, yet infuriating Aussie. Both actresses tell the stories through their body and face. Portraying emotions of disgust, fear, sadness and much more through their body. It is comic where necessary, and gentle where necessary. Taking car rides, plucking chickens and preparing for battle are just some examples of wonderfully physicalised scenes.
As well as their physicality, their voices are beautiful when they sing pub-rock anthems, ballads and more. Thankfully, this is a musical where the songs develop and carry the plot rather than disrupt it. Each musical number written by Zeljko Papic lets us into the emotional depths of Pavica and Mila through themes of motherhood, feminism and more. They visualise murdering chickens, welcome us all to the hen house and most importantly they sing their way through heartache for us. Each song is unique and special. The electric guitar was sometimes overpowering, and the reverb added to fast-paced songs was distracting to the lyrics at times. I really wanted to hear more of the dry vocals with less emphasis on the band to hear the message clearly.
This story is important to many Australians, and the audience was filled with people who could relate. Women in the audience celebrated by laughing and crying with these sisters, as this topic is often unspoken of as a part of our history. Inspired by their late grandmother who worked in a chicken factory, we see these Josipa and Mara give a voice to many of those women who experienced those hardships. A cleverly thought out production which was sensitive and addressed all the correct themes in a well-developed way.