Mary Woodward Review

A Feast of Bones – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – A Feast of Bone

***** (5 stars)

Theatre Lovett bring from Ireland their ingenious re-imagining of the story of Henny Penny and its aftermath…

Henny Penny the chicken is startled by something falling on her head: she thinks the sky is falling, and decides she must go and tell the king.  Her friends Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Poosey and Turkey Lurkey go with her: on the way, lost, they meet a charmingly suave gentleman who declares he can take them to the king – but he is a fox who has other designs on the five birds…

Lights swing at the back of the darkened stage as we enter: a silent figure is standing behind a wee table laden with food, other tables with silver dishes dimly gleam in the darkness, and a lone candle illuminates an upright piano.  The audience falls silent, the lights go down, and into the darkness comes a procession of musicians: one beats a bass drum, others play piano accordion and double bass.  A fourth begins a chant from which a song arises, simple, but inescapably haunting – “le monde, le monde, le monde est bouleversé”…

The Great War has recently ended, and in a little French restaurant in Dublin a waitress awaits one very special customer – a very suave gentleman in evening dress who is so hungry he could eat a horse.  The waitress explains that in accordance with the restaurant’s name – Le Monde est bouleversé [the world’s turned upside down] – the meal will be served back to front, starting with dessert and ending with the soup.  Ostensibly the perfect waitress, her façade cracks to reveal deep anguish: the customer comments sardonically and wittily on the oddities of restaurant and the stupidity of chickens.  We learn that the gentleman’s name is Renard, and notice that his coat’s lapels are of fox fur…

As the dinner progresses, hints of darkness emerge, and we think we know where it’s going – vengeance, a dish best served cold, is being served where it’s richly deserved.  Each course is devoured by Renard, who comments ecstatically on their exquisite flavours as he is gobbles chicken, duck, goose and turkey, all ‘disguised’ with French names which he is unable to translate [despite his boasting of a perfect understanding of the language].

The waitress begins to tell Renard her story: how she set off with her friends to find the king, and how a kind gentleman offered to lead them to him – only to have her friends disappear one by one into the dark cave into which they’d been led.  She asks him where his wife and children are, and to his horror he is told that what he has eaten was not, as he thought, poultry… His anguish is extreme: but nothing is what it seems and the twist in the tale has a twist in its tail as he reveals the circumstances that led him to kill Henny Penny’s four friends.

This is a brilliantly thought-provoking show [not for the faint-hearted!] superbly presented by a multi-talented cast.  The script cleverly mixes humour and pathos, the songs are fantastic, and the background music subtly comments on the action [Mack the knife as Renard enters, Keep the home fires burning when the wine waiter’s death in France is revealed].  Lisa Lambe and Louis Lovett by turns enchant and break our hearts as Henny Penny and Renard Fox, while Nico Brown and Martin Brunsden’s piano and double bass create a fascinating soundtrack, provide verbal comment and commentary, and even act as menacing heavies where needed.  Amelie Metcalfe’s cameo appearance as Renard’s wee daughter Freya at the end of the show adds yet another layer of complexity to the emotions we’ve already experienced.

Our world has been turned upside down as we are challenged to consider the other side of a well-known story: the ‘villain’ may not be acting from evil motives but from his own personal necessity – but does the end always justify the means?  Truly, le monde est bouleversé

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – A Feast of Bones Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh  Run Ended

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