Upon arriving at Pembroke New Cellars, I have to admit that I was initially underwhelmed. The small cellar hosted not more than 25 audience members. The ‘stage’ was set with a single table and a few props. For a Harry Porter Prize nominee, I had expected more. But I did not leave disappointed.
Fowl Play: No Country for Old Hens follows the activities of the Derbyshire village Women’s Institute as they prepare for the Annual Hen Race. Unable to find their star chicken, a rare Welsh breed, a trio from the Women’s Institute sets off in a hilarious search for their hen. In doing so, they encounter a local student volunteering for the Duke of Edinburgh award, a ‘crazy’ grandfather (who happens to be curiously related to one of the protagonists) and his gullible grandson, and a policeman who is adamant on enforcing the rule of law. Although simple, the plot was exceptionally well executed through a hysterical and profound script.
In my opinion, however, the charm of the play was in its diverse range of characters and well-suited actors. While Samantha (Sophie Atherton), a 38-year-old stay-at-home mother, struggled to come to terms with her age, Mary (Grace Glevey), an ex-dinner cook, provided a fine degree of sense and sarcasm. The play even incorporated an adorable romantic subplot as the two simpleton students, Carla (Katie Bonner) and Toby (Archie Williams), ventured into a world of smoking cigarettes and kissing. The characters were unique in that they were archetypical without being cringe-worthy; their adventures and stories depicted relatable experiences without being overwhelmingly serious or dark. Kudos to the actors who, across the board, were phenomenal – especially at pulling off the Derbyshire accent!
One thing the play lacked, however, was the requisite attention on costumes. Although generic characters such as members of the Women’s Institute were dressed appropriately, it was evident that corners had been cut when presenting Malcolm (Calum Macleod) – who is apparently an older man – and Jim the policeman (Rory Russel). Although Jim’s outfit – consisting of a bathrobe and police hat – was used to serve a comedic effect, it seemed a little out of place in the police office. The show could have also benefited from some spot lighting and better stage decoration, although it is understandable that the constraints of a student-produced play may make this difficult. All in all, the production team did well, given the resources they had.
Having reviewed several plays for The Cambridge Student at this point, I would confidently say that Fowl Play is one of the better productions in Cambridge – from its witty plot to amusing characters, the play has a lot going for it!