– Gameness til the End
Ken Longworth | January 11 2018 – 10:30AM | Newcastle Herald
COCKSURE: James Chapman plays Odysseus Rex,
who provides the audience with a rooster-eye view into human behaviour.
COCK-FIGHTING is a sport that has been popular for centuries in rural communities because it gives people who might otherwise be ignored the chance to show their skills in training the birds used in the encounters, and although banned in most countries, it continues undercover in many places.
American playwright Olivia Dufault’s dark comedy Year of the Rooster, which looks at the role cockfighting plays in people’s lives, has been a hit in the United States since it premiered in New York in October, 2013. The month-long first season was such a success with audiences and reviewers, selling out in days, that an equally-popular return season took place.
Year of the Rooster will have its Australian premiere at Newcastle’s intimate Royal Exchange Theatre in Bolton Street, with performances nightly at 8pm from January 31 to February 3. The play was written for staging in studio-style venues because they enable watchers to become close to the characters.
James Chapman, a member of Knock and Run Theatre, which presents significant new works, read the play after seeing comments about it. He has been cast by director Allison Van Gaal as Odysseus Rex, referred to as Odie by his owner, Gil Pepper, a man in his early 20s. Odie, who wears feathered male attire and has some chookie colour, makes sharp and amusing remarks about the humans around him.
Gil, played by Will Parker, has been troubled since his childhood. His father died when he was young and he’s had to care for his demanding mother, Lou (Jan Hunt), who is in her 70s and has to get around in a mobile chair. Gil, works at McDonald’s, enabling him to get Mcnuggets for Odie, while having to put up with the criticism of the 19-year-old assistant manager, Philipa (Stephanie Priest), who is irate because he rejected her advances. The story’s other character is Dickie Thimble (Carl Gregory), an aggressive businessman who sees himself as the town head and conducts the cock-fighting tourneys. A couple of the actors also play hens and roosters.
Allison Van Gaal has set the story in an Australian town because the joking comments made by the characters have a very down-under sound.
James Chapman sees the chicken characters as the story’s most sympathetic figures because they show feelings that the humans lack. And Will Parker, who is on stage for the story’s 90 minutes, with just an interval break in the middle, notes that Gil goes on a very interesting journey in search of himself. He gets to hear the comments of the people who come into the McDonald’s store and these often affect him.