Review of 'Chop Me Up or Let Me Go' at Hen & Chickens Theatre
This review was written on behalf of North West End UK and was originally published here.
Among the things that we all have collectively experienced over the past year, one of them has to be the physical and mental limits we are pushed to in confinement (read: lockdown). This set-up is not unfamiliar to the dramatic world – being stuck in a place with nowhere to go and nothing to do – and has been aptly used as a narrative structure in this new production by the Albiston Line Theatre Company. Chop Me Up or Let Me Go is a terse two-hander written and directed by Lesley Ann Albiston that explores survival, obsession and human relations through the lens of its two characters. Thomas Reynolds, a famous actor, has been kidnapped by Astrid Barton, a researcher who swears she’s his biggest fan. Astrid’s motives for the kidnapping aren’t particularly clear but it’s evident that Thomas is being held against his will. Tucked away in an undisclosed location, Astrid has made all the arrangements to keep Thomas imprisoned for a long while, including his favourite food, casual entertainment and a mysterious drug she keeps injecting him with. As days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, Thomas struggles to keep his sanity as every attempt to escape is thwarted and we begin to wonder… what is Astrid’s end game?
Credits: Albiston Line Theatre Company
The show relies on strong performances by its cast who bring out each character’s distinct neuroticism and eccentricities. Alastair Coughlan’s portrayal of a dedicated (in other words: full of himself) actor on the brink of a mental breakdown is deeply funny. He wrings out the text’s clever nods to the world of drama schools, acting auditions and insufferable public personalities. His energy and grip on the character is sustained throughout, capturing the internal shift in emotions and intention as he grapples with the situation that unfolds. Ciara Murphy slips into the shoes of researcher Astrid with ease, bringing forth her layered emotional relationship with Thomas to the fore. Murphy balances the character’s decisive, certain nature with her awkward (dare I say inexperienced) slips as a first-time kidnapper.
The direction by Albiston is uncomplicated and character-driven, crafting the narrative set-up such that there is a bit of unpredictability that keeps us guessing. This is complemented by Dan Maxted’s stage and lighting design, which allows us to focus more on the spoken dialogue. Whilst the writing is filled with sharp-witted remarks that bring out the absurdity of the situation, it jumps between a multitude of subplots and themes that unfold quickly in its second half but feel disconnected from the first half. Regardless, its clever juxtaposition of the immediate event (ie the kidnapping) in the context of the larger event (that gets revealed) grounds the story and acknowledges the stockholm syndrome that begins to characterize the relationship between the two characters.
To summarize, Chop Me Up or Let Me Go is a funny, dark and intriguing take on what happens when two distinct personalities find themselves stuck together for an inordinate amount of time. Their belief in themselves (and in each other) is put to the test in this battle of coerced confessions, deliberate actions and persistent attempts to escape.
You can watch Chop Me Up or Let Me Go at the Hen & Chickens Theatre till 23rd October. Learn more and book tickets at https://www.unrestrictedview.co.uk/chop-me-up-or-let-me-go-by-lesley-ann-albiston/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 20th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★