Chicken Farmer

first_imgBen Lafferty This new play by David Cochrane is an attempt to take us into the dissociative psychosis that seized the Nazi cabinet in the final convulsions of the Third Reich. Set in the clammy claustrophobia of Hitler’s bunker, Cochrane’s aim is to illustrate the seeping paranoia of Hitler’s inner circle and to remake figures who have become synonyms for abhorrence into comprehensible humans. Cochrane’s writing is at its best when knuckling down to these issues, as his repeated stabs at black comedy follow a formula that turns stale midway through the first implementation. A pair of doctors embark upon a vaudeville exchange of increasing pomposity before, in a manner sure to shock any audience, one calls the other a ‘cunt’. The device is repeated later with ‘fucking idiot’ and ‘bitch’, with similarly side-splitting consequences. When not indulging in such ornamentation, however, he poses some excellent, not to mention disturbing, questions. Beyond what point does depravity become irredeemable? Where does moral relativism come to an end?The character that best embodies these intractables is Albert Speer. Cochrane’s Speer is a decent man brought low by events. Rhys Jones’ portrayal will be familiar to all who’ve seen his previous roles. He is the world-weary Everyman striving for dignity in, you guessed it, a world gone mad. Jones is characteristically solid, but his portrayal exacerbates the piece’s patchy approach to naturalism. Alongside the fixedly deranged grin of Sheridan Edward’s Goebbels (think Chris Barrie, think ‘The Brittas Empire’), Speer remains a man of identity. One does not suppose that Cochrane feels compassion for Speer, he is not made a hero. When Cochrane protests he’s not writing a ‘historical’ play, the characterisation of his Speer is troubling. His portrayal is not a-historical but anti-historical; not alluded to for instance (at least at press-preview) is Speer’s complicity in the employment of slave labour. Should we truly be feeling empathy, even admiration, for a Nazi leader on the grounds that he was somewhat less evil than those around him? I’ve pored over the Thesaurus for whole minutes, but there really is no elegant way to say this: Tom Garner is just awful, portraying Heinrich Himmler so maladroitly as to stagger description. Unfortunately, as the drama of the piece rests on his ability to wrestle with the implications of his succeeding Hitler, climactic momentum conspicuously fails to build. Kit Dorey features as his aide, Walter Schellenberg, who naturally benefits from the direct comparison. It falls on Dorey to serve as playwright’s mouthpiece, acting as moral commentator, but the result is hampered by having the script’s clumsiest lines.This is my first encounter with Cochrane’s work, and I rather hope it shan’t be the last. As a writer he has conviction and the willingness to take chances, as well as an ambitious approach to monolithic subject matter. Sadly, that ambition betrays him here. Even for a author of maturity, re-imagining a situation so central the popular historical imagination is an awesome task. Cochrane’s style possesses too much studied mannerism, too great an eagerness to flash its literary credentials, to immerse us in the Führerbunker, though once he sheds such tics his qualities make him a writer of promise. Dir. DVF Cochrane OFS, 7.30pm16-20th Octoberlast_img read more