Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Children are invited to be part of the storytelling by being invited onstage from the very beginning and helping the actors create. With a number of stories involving puppets, costume, song and dance the actors have an overarching structure within which they invite the children to create mayhem and divert them from their narrative – a little.
This is theatre for the younger generation that eschews the fourth wall, invites the audience in and allows them a part in the story. As such the stricture becomes loose and important. Allowing the actors and the audience to divert the storyline, whilst keeping a pathway down which they all have to travel is either scary or enriching. Here it blossoms. Let’s not be kidded though, the script has always got the pathway to which it returns and the audience will never be able to completely keep the performance away from achieving its objectives. This is its strength – as long as there are performers equal to the tasks it asks.
All the actors are highly skilled and able to perform in whichever direction they are sent. They understand how to re engage and re divert their audience. And it is never by saying no! A word of praise for the actor, Phil. Phil is an engaging performer, fully integrated into the piece demonstrating a high degree of skill and aptitude. Phil has Downs Syndrome. The former is relevant, the latter irrelevant. However it is unfortunately note worthy that in a children’s piece of theatre – arguably the most demanding arena for performers – Phil is in there and the kids loved him. Chickenshed are an integrated company so it should come as no surprise that Phil is part of the team but it is still noticeable that he is, so far on my travels, the only performer with additional support needs that I have seen at the Fringe this year. Other companies take note.
The staging is by its very nature simple but effective enough – it’s a shed and it looks like one. The costumes are simple and bright though you did get the feeling they could all have done with a good wash. I am caught between wanting to have the place brightened up and wondering if that would detract from the engagement of the piece.
This is children’s theatre for a new generation. Purists may scoff at the idea at what would appear to encourage chaos as the future of an art form that requires people to sit in wonder and awe as an adult at the joy of creativity in a darkened room with strangers but you have to understand the process of children’s theatre. It has taken a lot of focus in recent decades and in many ways been a tremendous source of enquiry and development for theatre generally. It asks fundamental questions and responds with incredibly fascinating answers. The fourth wall is not only torn down but it is blown apart. The audience participate in a part workshop, part performance that they can influence. It asks us to believe that we have the power to be creative and participative without any of the learnt behaviours that would keep us in our seats because we are “being taught”.
It engaged and enthralled the audience that I saw it with because of all of that and because the audience were asked to become the show. Kids being creative? Kids being given the opportunity to get up, put the DS down and get down with the arts? Wicked! It’s being going on since 1996 and it will take some more years for the rest of theatre to catch up but if you want to know where it’s at – it’s here!
As an older man reaching the autumn of his life what do I know? I can postulate and suggest where this performance sits within a genre or delivers on the creative front. What we need to road test his is a confident, pushy and bright 3 year old. So I took one!
My daughter, Cerys, rushed onstage for the puppets. She cuddled and helped Mark and the team at every available opportunity. She ended up being lifted high in one tableaux. She danced the dances and sang the songs in the buggy afterwards. What was most impressive was she completely disrupted the ending to the show. (I promise she wasn’t a plant to test the performers!) Mark had put his envelope in a safe place. Cerys knew that had meant it had fallen somewhere. Being oh so helpful she decided to tell Mark where it was. Oh there was a whole sequence to go through to get there but Cerys was for none of that. I have seen many a performer be completely foxed by this dilemma. Chickenshed weren’t. The customer was right and Cerys’s help was accepted. Just one word of advice – if you are going to perform for the kids make sure you know the kid’s TV references, Mark! Imagination Movers is on Disney Junior!
I adored this show because it had no pretensions was worthwhile rather than worthy and gave my daughter the best introduction to theatre and the fringe that I could have wished for. For that reason I have little option but to award it 5 stars as it captivates me and captured her.