Reviewed – 8th February 2018
“McGuirk gives a delightful performance, drawing the audience in with her bold and bubbly characterisation”
Single narrative performances are a theatrical style whose popularity has fluctuated over the years, even though it has maintained an underground following. However, recently, there does seem to be a resurgence of theatres within the capital that are allocating more space within their programme to showcase this art form. Whether it is in the shape of a poetry slam, a spoken word night, or a solo performance event, the singular voice is taking centre stage once more. North London’s Chickenshed Theatre is one such place that has jumped on the bandwagon. Their new production, Monolog, is a celebration of the lone voice, and the vast, diverse approaches in which it can be heard.
In an intimate and relaxed setting, four, non-linking monologues that include new writing as well as the work of established writers are given exposure, delivered with vitality and enthusiasm. Opening with Her Big Chance by Alan Bennett, Belinda McGuirk presents the piece from what is probably the most recognisable collection of dramatic monologues, Talking Heads. Julie Walters had originally played the part of starry-eyed actress, Lesley, for the small screen, but here, McGuirk gives a delightful performance, drawing the audience in with her bold and bubbly characterisation. The monologue does seem dated now, with its references and the character’s moral naivety, though still topical in light of the recent uncoverings of sexual abuse and harassment cases within the film industry.
A newly commissioned autobiographical piece, This Is Me, by Diane Samuels (best known for her play Kindertransport) is the second offering. The performance is a snapshot of memories of her life with alternating performances by either Belinda McGuirk as the older Diane, or Lucy Mae Beacock as the younger, depending on which performance you see. I saw the younger self, sweetly portrayed by Beacock using an unconventional method of audience participation to reveal the next vignette of her early life, gradually building the bigger picture of who she is. Beacock gives a confident and assured performance as the young Diane, but the content is rather underwhelming.
The most thrilling contributions to the show are the two monologues from the ‘New Writing’ selection, which have a fresh and vibrant voice. A total of six have been written by various affiliates of the Chickenshed community, rotating between which are presented. Last Piece of the Sun, collaboratively devised by Alesha Bhakoo, Dave Carey and Milly Rolle, follows the heart-breaking consequences of a one-night stand, which Bhakoo performs with real believability. Whilst, the kooky, I Find Love In A Bin (In Waterloo Station) by Peter Dowse, is wonderfully brought to life by Sarah Connelly, who imaginatively uses the abstract imagery to her advantage.
This showcase of work is a pleasant reminder of how important the monologue is to the arts, and the power in which in can behold in telling a narrative. Moving through varying emotions and periods of time Monolog demonstrates how far the form has come along, whilst contemplating how much wider its parameters could be pushed in the future.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Daniel Beacock
Chickenshed Theatre until 3rd March
Chicken Shed Theatre
Reviewed – 30th November 2017
“navigates the line between what is real and what imaginary skilfully”
Chickenshed’s Rapunzel is an utter joy. Ambitious and energetic; a visual and musical beauty, with a strong take home message to celebrate the power of your imagination. I left with a warm glow in my heart and a lasting tingle down my spine. This production is a must-see.
The cast of talented and dynamic children and adults were always committed and eye-catching. At all points, the stage was active and engaging, and the team of choreographers must be commended for their innovation. From dryads, to gnomes, to spiders and traders, every cluster had a distinct way of moving and communicating. I felt the work behind every performance and every moment, and am filled with respect and awe for the creatives. Cerys Lambert, sixteen-year-old babysitter Hazel and, in her dreams (or her reality…), Rapunzel, played the nuances of her role with grace and warmth. Culminating in ‘I Want It All’, this rendition of Rapunzel focuses on finding yourself, ‘searching, falling, losing, learning’, and is a spot-on contemporary reclamation of traditional, gender-stereotypical fairy tales.
Lucy Sierra’s set, expertly lit by Andrew Caddies, was a dream to behold. Textured walls, secret cubby holes, and Rapunzel’s tower, concealed by netted leaves, all contributed to the atmosphere of discovery, excitement, and subtle darkness, which the story handles bravely. Simon Wells’ costumes were striking, novel and wonderfully varied. This production created so many exquisite pictures: perfectly-timed spotlights during songs; flying lanterns, to which the little boy next to me said ‘wow!’ under his breath; moving seamlessly between small groups of performers to a stage full to the brim; chaotic, but with intention, and always artful. At one moment, Rapunzel’s mesmerising theme, the most memorable of all the music, ‘Sweet the Dream’, washed over the auditorium, and her shape was visible in the tower, lit up behind the leaves. I was immersed in the magical world which Chickenshed concocted.
Lou Stein’s script weaves in and out of sprightly and lilting rhyming verse. The lyrics, which he wrote alongside composer Dave Carey, are occasionally excessive, and the jokes can be a little too knowing. Gemilla Shamruk had magnetic stage presence, though her sexy song was a little jarring, and somewhat disrupted the tone of her evil. But mostly, it was very refreshing to have the content of a traditional story challenged, to include far-reaching references outside of its world, and keep audiences on their toes. Rapunzel is consistently well-paced, and it navigates the line between what is real and what imaginary skilfully, originally and to spine-tingling effect, such that I was left believing in both worlds equally.
To mention the performances I was impressed by would entail listing all the names in the programme; but I particularly enjoyed Will Lawrence and Nathaniel Leigertwood’s tricksy and witty double-act; and Loren Jacobs and Belinda McGuirk’s mythical dryads and their counterparts, who sustained their eerie stature throughout, whilst taking turns to sign the show. Chickenshed created an equal stage for everyone who was on it, and for audiences alike. Though individuals shone, the fabric of the show is woven by the miraculous thing which happens when people of all shapes, sizes and forms of expression come together to make something they believe in.
The electrifying, flawless live band elevated Rapunzel yet further, and Dave Carey’s fantastic orchestration was eclectic and exciting. The audience were riveted and attention never lulled. I am still flicking through the very well assembled programme. Go and see Rapunzel today, and discover ‘what you are made of, and what you can be’!
Reviewed by Eloise Poulton
Photography by Daniel Beacock
is at the Chicken Shed Theatre until 6th January 2018