Home » London Theatre Reviews » So Help Me Dog at Hen and Chickens Theatre | Review

So Help Me Dog at Hen and Chickens Theatre | Review

The initial courtroom scenes were a little odd, with Danny Franks (Kai Spellman) waxing lyrical about all sorts of subjects, in a manner that would lead almost any judge to call the court to order, and for Danny (such was his informality that it’s first name terms here) to only answer the questions put to him by counsel. Later, Dean Stalham’s script indulges in metatheatre, and it’s quickly understood that creative licence is being liberally sprinkled throughout the play, with the added bonus of various narrative strands coming together and making much more sense by the end of the second half than they did by the end of the first. To put it another way, you might be a little baffled by the interval, but it’s worth coming back and investing in the rest of it.

So Help Me Dog at Hen and Chickens Theatre. Photo credit: Christopher Sherwood.
So Help Me Dog at Hen and Chickens Theatre. Photo credit: Christopher Sherwood.

Danny ticks various boxes, as the play would have it, for what the criminal justice system would consider someone likely to be guilty of whatever it is he’s on trial for. Other members of his family also have criminal records, for instance, and he didn’t exactly excel academically speaking at school. Not all of it is necessarily down to him being part of the ‘criminal class’, however, with the legalese – or ‘big words’, as Danny puts it – potentially baffling practically anyone who isn’t familiar with lawyer jargon.

A long scene in the second half with Danny and Screw (Gary Cain), a prison officer, reveals much about the prison system – it was an eye-opener for someone like me, who just happens not to have been in a prison before (in any capacity). A lot was packed into a relatively short time, with details about, amongst other things, the architectural design of prisons and the historical origins of solitary confinement. It was expected that people like Danny were likelier to reoffend than not, with Screw confident that Danny would be back at some point after being released.

Indeed, the play has much to say about how efforts to rehabilitate people are secondary to the apparent need to punish them, with Screw, as a representative of Wandsworth Prison, taking delight in the perennially overcrowded conditions. Danny’s backstory – he has a ten-year-old son and had (past tense) a partner – helps the audience to understand the central character, and none of the details are unnecessary filler. There still aren’t enough stories like this one: raw, telling it like it is and without any political agenda or ulterior motives.

The set is sparse: visually, the courtroom looked more or less the same as the prison, which looked more or less the same as Danny’s front room. A heavy reliance on the art of storytelling makes for very swift scene changes. Music and dance is used sparingly but both breaks up the rather intense narrative as well as provide moments of cathartic release. There may not be a twelve-point plan for prison reform included, but arguably there’s something even richer: an utterly riveting account of someone living and thriving despite against almost all odds, this is a bold and unflinching production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Kai Spellman as Danny Franks
Claire Maria Fox as Prosecutor
Gary Cain as Screw

Producer: Margate Barred Productions
Writer: Dean Stalham
Director: Lil Warren
Designer: Dean Stalham

Danny Franks was born into a tough crime family. Diagnosed with ADHD aged three. Dyslexic. He left school aged 14 with no formal qualifications. But his family still taught him to ‘make a living’.

It is 2004. He is facing trial for possession of £6 million worth of contemporary art. A collection the upper echelons of society says he has no right to have.

By Dean Stalham
28 May to 15 June 2024
Hen & Chickens Theatre

Expatriated at Hen & Chickens Theatre – April 2024


2 thoughts on “So Help Me Dog at Hen and Chickens Theatre | Review”

  1. A very fair & balanced review for a powerful play by Dean Stalham about a life growing up on a London council estate in the 1960’s & 70’s & how that took him into the worlds of justice & criminality & all that comes with it.

  2. Valentina Demir

    “So Help Me Dog” delivered a gripping and emotional performance that captivated the us from start to finish. The play expertly balanced humor, music, and heartfelt drama, evoking both laughter and tears.

    The lead actor’s performance was outstanding, holding our attention with unwavering intensity and bringing depth to every scene. The second half of the play skillfully resolved all lingering questions, providing a satisfying and coherent conclusion.

    In summary, “So Help Me Dog” is a must-see, offering a profound and entertaining theatrical experience with excellent performances and a well-crafted storyline.

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