With over 40 years of productions under their belt Chickenshed is a well known name in theatre. As a company their inclusive ethos means audiences get to see a large and diverse audiences and judging by the sold out preview I attended families make the Chickenshed Christmas show an annual event.
The fairy tale Snow White is given a sixties setting, with contemporary issues such as privilege and forgiveness. As Susan Jameson at Chickenshed told me the children thought an idea of a prince was ridiculous and wanted to move away from the traditional story. Snow White (Cara McInanny) lives a life of privlege with her father Hector (Jonny Morton) and her stepmother, former model Jane De Villiers (Sarah Connolly). Jane cannot hide her jealously of the relationship Snow and Hector have so she sends their head of security, Jason (Nathaniel Leigertwood) to kill Snow White. He doesn’t, because Snow White is so lovely, so she heads to the Scottish highlands and meets the Magnificent Seven and eventually lives happy ever after.
What I liked was that this didn’t feel like a festive show, the C word wasn’t mentioned once and not a bauble in sight but its message; to love, to forgive and to be kind felt timely. As adults we don’t always show these attributes but when you provide an inclusive environment; where children can work with children and adults who may have different lives from one another then you cannot be inclusive without showing kindness.
The sixties setting gives the production’s live band lead by musical director Dave Carey a lot to play with. The music written by Carey with lyrics from director and writer Lou Stein is as vast and diverse as their cast; from ska inspired Mobsters Have All The Fun to psychedelic Find Your Mojo in Soho it really gives this talented cast something to dig into. Cara McInanny is a real find as Snow White and I particularly enjoyed Sarah Connolly as the wicked stepmother and Ashley Driver as her mirror. The cast of 200 children and young people are integral to the show and kudos needs to go to Stein and the choreography team (Michael Bossisse, Robin Shillinglaw and Dina Williams) to direct such a large cast without it being distracting. William Fricker’s set and costume felt very authentic, moving seamlessly between Regent’s Park Mansion to Scottish woodlands.
I often go on about accessibility and how theatre isn’t very good at it but Chickenshed shows not only what theatre can do (signers on stage as standard) but what theatre must do, more diverse casts, naturally relaxed performances (if someone in the audience needs to go out for a bit it really isn’t that distracting) and a sense that all people are welcome without losing any sense of fun.