The House with Chicken Legs review (Southbank Centre)

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★★★★

Braving the busiest Saturday of the year in the capital, this weekend I headed up to London for a double show day featuring a repeat visit to Operation Mincemeat and my first time reviewing at the Southbank Centre. The House with Chicken Legs has found a home at this renowned venue for the festive period, following a UK tour. Adapted for stage by Les Enfants Terribles’ Artistic Director Oliver Lansley and brought to life by the award-winning theatre company, I’d seen some production photographs for the show a little while ago and was extremely looking forward to viewing the imaginative sets and visuals in person. Sophie Anderson’s book is largely aimed at children, but if the stage adaptation is anything to go by, the material can resonate with all ages, with its relatable messaging and unique approach to set design.

The House with Chicken Legs set at the Southbank Centre, London

Background

I went into the production with little knowledge of the story, but it is relatively easy to follow, throwing audiences into a fictional world where the lands of the living and dead blur into one. Inspired by Slavic folklore, 12 year old Marinka and her grandmother ‘Baba’ live in a moving house with chicken legs on the fringes of society. They travel across the world, guiding souls to the land of the dead after they pass away. Despite all of the fantasy theming, it is a musical that focuses on growing up, the difficulties of navigating teenage life and what it means to grieve. Actor-musicians make up the company and we are treated to approximately two and a half hours of creative and moving theatre.

What's on poster at the Southbank Centre featuring The House with Chicken Legs

Set design, puppetry and video

Les Enfants Terribles have a distinct visual style and this can be seen in Jasmine Swan’s inspired sets, Samuel Wyer’s puppets and costumes and Nina Dunn’s colourful video projections. For this show the creatives have adopted a maximalist approach, filling the stage with bold colours and patterns, which tie in to Melissa Castrillón’s original book illustrations. There are several visual nods to Day of the Dead and celebrating life in the props and set pieces, which give the production a unique sense of identity.

Michael Barker in The House With Chicken Legs
© Rah Petherbridge

There were moments when the extravagant sets required extensive movement to get the locations into place, taking away from the continuity of the story. Lots of places are covered throughout the show and it is difficult to keep up sometimes, with the swift movement of the house between scenes, both figuratively in the show and also logistically by the production team. That being said, I commend the theatre company for being so innovative in the set design.

Musical production value

Performed by talented actor-musicians, Alexander Wolfe’s soundtrack is both brave and subtle, covering the changing energies of the story. For me, the softer, acoustic numbers such as ‘Odd One Out’ and ‘Destiny’ are the highlights of the show. In the bigger production numbers there were some sound issues which gave the effect that the cast were shouting, but then there were also moments where words weren’t picked up by the microphones. I found myself having to tune out of this to focus on the diction. Fortunately these issues were only isolated to the full company numbers and fizzled out later in the show.

Stephanie Levi-John, Elouise Warboys, Eve De Leon Allen, Michael Barker, Dan Willis in The House with Chicken Legs
© Rah Petherbridge

Emotional impact

When a production moves you and makes you see grief from a whole different perspective, you can’t help but commend the cast and creative team. Eve De Leon Allen plays complex character Marinka with heart and there were a few moments where I felt myself begin to tear up, especially when the character explains how fond she is of her Baba. I also found the relationship between Marinka and Ben (Michael Barker) endearing, with the pair conscientiously portraying the difficulties of teen life and feeling like you fit in. As a whole, the material is incredibly relatable for young people, especially if they have experienced loss in some shape or form. When you strip back the vibrant costumes, special effects and imaginative staging, The House With Chicken Legs is a story about learning to adapt to life without a loved one.

Eve De Leon Allen and Stephanie Levi John in The House with Chicken Legs
© Rah Petherbridge

Final thoughts

Les Enfants Terribles’ interpretation of The House with Chicken Legs is both thoughtful and visually impressive, allowing the company to excel at what they do best creatively, but also approach the subjects of Anderson’s book with sensitivity. There were a couple of technical issues which held it back from being a slick musical adventure, but it will certainly speak to audiences young and old, with its innovative visuals and courageous approach to storytelling. The musical plays in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre until 30th December, with tickets available via the venue’s website

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for The House with Chicken Legs was gifted in exchange for a review.

Category:
#theatre

Comments

  1. Simon Barker says:

    This is such a lovely, thoughtful review. We were at the Saturday evening showing and absolutely loved it – although we might be slightly biased as our son is playing Ben.

    1. Thank you, Simon!

      Michael was brilliant, you must be very proud.

      Merry Christmas!
      Kat

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