On the way out of the Hen and Chickens Theatre, I text Upper Circle’s editor. “Abducting Diana is Bat. Shit. Crazy,” I say, “I have no idea what I just watched.”
Twelve hours later, I’m still at a bit of a loss as to what Theatre of Heaven and Hell’s latest production is all about. A revival of Dario Fo’s 1986 play, Abducting Diana is a comedy (although many of the jokes fall completely flat) with an impressively convoluted plot centred around the kidnapping of a multi-millionaire media magnate Diana McKaye (Elena Clements) by a trio of clowns. McKaye’s superior intelligence allows her to outmanoeuvre her would-be abductors, inciting them against their boss and into a plot to – well, to do something. It’s not entirely clear.
To be completely fair, things do pick up once Irish priest (Jake William Francis) arrives, with a frankly hilarious scene involving the exorcism of a fridge (I did warn you the plot is convoluted) and a trigger-happy altar boy. However, the moments of genuine humour are few and far between. Michael Ward’s direction tends towards the slapstick, which does not always work.
It feels worth mentioning at this point that according to the company’s synopsis, this is a “political commentary on the rich”. I did get the impression, watching the production, that there was a political message in there somewhere, but it’s rather lost in the wider confusion. There are Boris Johnson masks – and yet Angela Loucaides’ set is 1980s in all its glory, typewriters and vintage telephones galore. There are asides, barbed jokes and yet – no clarity. Furthermore, there is something profoundly jarring about the villains – the “rich” we are meant to be railing against – being both women, in an age of #metoo and widespread anger against the wage gap.
The production is not helped either by a certain sloppiness of execution. Some devices are delightful – I enjoyed the intermezzo section which allows for a complete set change while the actors engage with the audience and provide some much needed exposition – but on the whole, the show has a very amateurish vibe. Phones continue to ring even once they’ve been picked up, actors read newspaper articles that are all too clearly adverts, there is a hunt for a key to open a combination lock – in a space as intimate as the Hen and Chickens, there is no room for error. The production is desperately in need of a lighting designer and acoustically, there are moments when the overlapping pleading and shrieking on stage are just overwhelmingly shrill.
The cast look as if they having the time of their lives, which I’m sure they are. The audience mostly look a little shell-shocked. But hey, fight the system! Right?