“Resourcefully minimalist, the coordination is slick and the acting, confident”
Hamlet sees his dead father’s ghost, pretends to go mad with revenge, becomes mad with revenge and everybody dies. Similarly, in a whirlwind performance, ‘6Foot Stories’ encapsulates Shakespeare’s longest work in just over an hour. The play, often abridged to around three hours, weaves together a complexity of themes, motifs and psychology which, while engaging the audience, challenges them with questions on certainty vs indecision, action vs inaction, appearance vs reality. Here, branching off from the up-dating, setting-change and gender-reversal productions, it is the group of actors employed by Hamlet to reenact his father’s murder and prompt a guilty reaction in his uncle, who also witness the ghost and are commanded to incite vengeance for his death. Thereupon, the players rewrite the script they have been given and hope to fire up Hamlet’s wrath.
We are packed into their rehearsal room, walls strewn with plot and character analyses, and watch this condensed retelling as the three members of cast put pen to paper and draw up a narrative involving the prince. Sharing roles as well as technical duties, each takes their turn as sound engineer, lighting technician, stage manager…and Hamlet, while adopting the play’s other main parts: Amy Fleming is a bumbling, pipe-smoking Polonius; sensitive, fragile Ophelia is played by Will Bridges; Jake Hassam towers above as charming antagonist, Claudius. At an enthusiastic pace, we are whisked through a simplified storyline which incorporates the essential highlights of plot and script and sums up the characters. The team operates their own lighting (designed by Nigel Munson), helping to dramatise the action, and sound (Jake Hassam), sometimes enhancing, other times rather overpowering in such a small venue. Thoughtful and well-constructed, this adaptation incorporates brief touches of puppetry, live music and fight sequences, all of which keep the sense of a theatrical environment and there are occasional strong moments of drama – Ophelia’s death, for example. But it is confusing as to the motivation behind the project apart from a live summary.
The creative roots and backstory of the company are evident through the production’s original style and lively energy. Resourcefully minimalist, the coordination is slick and the acting, confident. For those already familiar with ‘Hamlet’ it is a fun view from a different angle, a catch-up of old friends. Newcomers to the work might get the gist of the tale but, then again, may not.
“a unique experience of entertainment, enlightenment and warmth”
Another year and another Chickenshed Christmas extravaganza! This time, we are thrown into the 1960s; society is tossing aside its coat of conformity, young people are asserting their individuality and music and fashion are colourful, vibrant and defiant. Snow White resents her shallow, affluent life in the Regent’s Park mansion, and the elite parties thrown by her stepmother. A ‘has been’ fashion model, Jane de Villiers is jealous of her for having the looks she, herself, has lost and for the love her banker husband shows for his daughter. To remain ‘the fairest of them all’, she instructs her security guard to kill Snow White. Of course (as we all know the plot) he doesn’t; she flees to the Scottish Highlands where she meets the Magnificent Seven, a commune of outsiders who feel they don’t belong but have found love, friendship and happiness together.
Within the structure of the narrative, writer and director, Lou Stein, with a small student collective, develops 60s themes, shapes strong principal roles and form teams and clans to enable a huge cast to participate, benefit and enjoy. And whether it is the youngest ‘Sixties Swinger’, the smallest ‘Mirror’ or the oldest Sprite’, they do this with intoxicating energy, enthusiasm and commitment. Cara McInanny is a wonderfully down to earth and sympathetic Snow White, her narcissistic stepmother is played with frighteningly malignant nerve by Sarah Connolly and, as the down-trodden husband, Jonny Morton gives a remarkably strong performance. All three sing beautifully with confidence and ease. Nathaniel Leigertwood plays Jason the security guard, with just the right ingenuousness and as Bobby The Buster, Will Laurence leads his mobsters into trouble with great aplomb. A mirror with charisma, Ashley Driver also integrates the signing into the show, along with two of the ‘Seven’, Sarah Jones and Bethany Hamlin, drawing the whole audience into the action. Dave Carey’s varied musical numbers spread across the many genres of that time. Not only reminiscent of the Beatles he also gives us a taste of Pink Floyd, reggae and ‘Hair’, the musical.
The set, by William Fricker, incorporates artistic designs of the decade with the looking-glass motif in a stunning combination of simplicity and practicality – monochrome, geometric patterns and circles and a wall of assorted mirrors which double up as screens for projections of 60s London life. Fricker’s costumes touch on the various styles of the era (including the Dr. Seuss-esque Psychedelic Sprites), devises dazzling mirrors and cleverly keeps Snow White’s colour scheme to the popular blue, yellow and red. The lighting by Andrew Caddies gives an additional layer of richness to the visual brilliance of the production.
There may be some magic formula to juggling the logistics of putting on a show with four casts of 200 but I imagine it comes down to dedication, experience and a lot of hard work. One could perhaps point out the somewhat accelerated ending, that the band occasionally drowns the singing or question where the Psychedelic Sprites really fit into the tale, but it hardly seems relevant. ‘Snow White’ gives everyone the chance to feel part of something while expressing their own potential. For the audience, it is a unique experience of entertainment, enlightenment and warmth.