Thursday, 3 June 2004

Happy New, Brendan Cowell, June 3, 2004

Happy New by Brendan Cowell
 Store Room, 3 to 20 June, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Brendan Cowell's Happy New, directed with energy by Ben Harkin, the compelling part of the true story emerges very late.

Two brothers, Danny, (Dai Paterson) and Lyle, (Angus Sampson) were left locked in a chicken pen by their mother for months. Not only did the 10 and 12 year olds eat all the chickens, but they adopted chicken behaviour.

Cowell's script accentuates the absurdity rather than the tragedy of this incredible story.
It is New Year's Eve in the boys' cramped apartment. They are now young men. They engage in a mutual cleansing ritual, concoct a disgusting celebratory punch and plan unlikely New Year's resolutions.

There is an obvious pecking order - Danny is top chicken. Lyle sits subserviently listening and deferring to him. There are hints about their having lived in dirt and being afraid to go outside. Disappointingly, the history of the boys is only dealt with at the end.

The second half is far more satisfying when we see Danny and Lyle as little boys trapped in their coop. Their damage and weirdness becomes clear and we care about them. The structure of the play is awkward. Much of the play is a series of ranting monologues.

Danny's opening rave is a muddled account of his desire for the Australian Dream: a dog, a filofax, children and love. Lyle rambles about being a corporate executive with an office by the photocopier. After his first kiss from Prue, he launches into a violent rave.

Danny' girlfriend, Prue, (Jude Beaumont) enters with a lengthy, vitriolic attack on the unfaithful Danny.

These absurd diatribes are often entertaining and Cowell has a flair for jamming on an idea until it is exhausted. However, his style is often verbose. The script needs a vigorous edit. It is so riddled with metaphor and analogy that it becomes impenetrable at times.

Sampson as Lyle, surprises us with his shift from cuddly and naïve to raging thug. Patterson is engaging but seems uncertain in the less defined role of Danny.

As Prue, Beaumont is a sexy fireball, believable as a self-seeking television executive. We wonder why Prue, a reality television producer who interviewed the boys immediately after their coop experience, is still visiting them. 

 Let us just say, all is revealed in the final moments.

LOOK FOR: The boys in the chicken coop

By Kate Herbert

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