‘Chicken Soup with Barley’, while being a hearty meal makes for a largely depressing play. Heavily political it charts the success of capitalism and the death of socialism accelerated by gaps of ten years in London’s East End. It’s depressing because it’s about the death of ideas and progress, and a violent call to arms against political apathy which seemingly has fallen on deaf ears. Shocking when it was first performed, the overtly political messages of the play have lost none of their zeal today, and it is easy to see why theRoyal Court have chosen to stage it.
Politically ‘Important’ and ‘Relevant’ it may be, I found the play to be a gloomy experience with little in the way of catharsis; it was far more about ideas than people. The characters were all quite extravagant and representative of political identities that I felt little attachment to them, and didn’t really care about their fates. It was fast-paced and even humorous at times but the lack of real feeling left me feeling cold and disinterested.
Also, the production attempted to manipulate emotions in a way that seemed a bit cheap- having a great actor portraying a dying old man suffering from the aftermath of multiple stokes is always going to make you feel uncomfortable, sad and upset and it does seem like simply an easy trick to up the emotional ante on what is quite a wordy play which made these elements seem unearned and unjustified.
All in all it just wasn’t the exciting, genre-bursting theatre you can sometimes expect to see at theRoyal Court. I should have just stuck with the soup.