Uma Nada-Rajah: Toy Plastic Chicken, A Play, A Pie & A Pint
A large plastic toy chicken, with slightly French overtones sat centre stage as we waited for the show to begin. With great solemnity it waddled all by itself across the table and, after making a huge fuss, laid an egg. Rachel appeared, delighted with the absurdity of the chicken, which she put into her bag to take on her holiday.
Ross and Emma are facing a day at work as airport security officers, Ross trying to be bright and cheery, Emma simply hoping the day will pass without incident. Their boss, Mackay, has texted in “sick”, probably from the previous night’s over-indulgence in alcohol – yet another grievance for Ross, over whose head he was promoted. Ross feels Mackay doesn’t deserve the promotion, and can’t really do the job: Emma is being remarkably silent about Mackay, but very bitter about the monotony of her job – “being the guardians: here to protect passengers from their own toothpaste”. Ross and Emma seem to have history, but Ross is so bound up with his own need for promotion and more money that he completely fails to observe that Emma’s not a happy bunny – though he does notice she’s wearing a different perfume from usual.
Ross is obsessed with protocols and procedures, and completely freaks out when, as Rachel is going through the screening process, the plastic chicken starts making noises and is discovered under Rachel’s scarf. Suddenly things get serious: he panics and escalates the situation into A Situation, which becomes even graver when Ross suggests a course of action which could end up with them being commended rather than sacked. Emma is pissed off: she just wanted a quiet shift and thinks Ross has gone completely OTT, but grudgingly agrees to his suggestion, even though this involves strip-searching Rachel.
Meanwhile Rachel, who is anxious not to miss her plane, is completely bewildered by the fuss being made about the chicken. She tries trying to make the situation more bearable and human by attempting to engage with the officers, but is gradually deflated and dehumanised by their robotic behaviour towards her and what she sees as their attempts to trap her into making damaging admissions about herself. It’s she who notices Emma’s bruised face: only then does Ross realise and discover the truth about why their ‘little Thing’ at the Christmas party never went anywhere – and it’s Emma who realises that Rachel is losing the plot – or is her toy chicken actually speaking to her???
Based on a real incident experienced by the author, this play looks at the current climate of fear, how panic makes people do unwise things, and how the impersonality of The System can ultimately dehumanise the people employed to put it into practice. It’s a perceptive portrait of people dealing with boring, repetitive jobs which are nonetheless vital and the contrast between their ‘backstage’ matey, jocular, ‘let’s get through this boredom somehow’ personae and the ‘I have to speak like an automaton and refuse to see you as a human being because that’s what the protocol dictates’. At what point does doing such a dehumanising job turn one into less than human, unable to see and respond to someone else’s distress because Self comes first, and self-preservation is the prime directive?
There was excellent acting from all three – David James Kirkwood’s ‘I know all the protocols’ Ross, Anna Russell-Martin’s “I hate this job but I have to do it” Emma, and Neshla Caplan’s Rachel, trying to cope with a terrifying situation and retain her essential humanity. The ‘procedures’ underlined the horrifying prospect of one’s whole life being traceable on one’s smartphone and the convoluted, Machiavellian thought-processes of the people who devise the protocols for “recognising radicalisation” in suspects.
The audience was engaged throughout and there was a lot of laughter. The play hadn’t got the sparkle of the Casablanca or Chic Murray plays, but a cracking performance from all three actors gave us a lot to think about, especially how very little privacy there is in one’s life in this electronic, ‘smart’ age…
Uma Nada-Rajah: Toy Plastic Chicken, A Play, A Pie & A Pint,Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends Sat May 18th For Tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-toy-plastic-chicken