Chicken Shed Theatre Company - 'Peter Pan'
Nobody left behind Neverland
by Stuart Sweeney
December 15, 2004 -- Chicken Shed Theatre, Southgate, London
"Peter Pan” is my first experience of Chicken Shed Theatre Company and this dynamic, colourful and well-organised production is an impressive introduction to their philosophy. Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, Chicken Shed’s mission is: “…to use drama and music to enable the group to learn self-expression through teamwork. The aim of the company has always been to produce entertaining work and to open the performing arts to all.” Alongside a theatre company, they boast the largest children’s and youth theatre club in Europe, with a membership nearing 700. Chicken Shed also offers a number of theatre qualifications, including a Postgraduate Certificate in partnership with Middlesex University.
In “Peter Pan” we saw several of these elements brought together. Alongside professional leads who teach in the organisation, we saw masses of children, including several with learning or physical difficulties, all incorporated into the action. I was impressed by the discipline and scale of the youth ensemble sections, especially when I realised that this was one of four casts.
Inclusion is clearly a vital part of the Chicken Shed philosophy and in “Peter Pan” they have integrated sign language into the action. Rather than detached specialists on the side of the stage, cast members take turns, sometimes individually, sometimes as a group, so that signing is woven into the fabric of the performance and even into the dance routines. Signing is an intriguing form of movement in its own right and I was sometimes reminded of the mime language of Kathak dance. A pantomime should always have some audience involvement and we had to bring the poisoned Tinkerbell back to life; after various strategies had failed, we were taught a phrase of sign language, which duly did the trick – instructive as well as enjoyable.
This is a traditional narrative production, but set to a pop score and occasional modern references such as hip-hop. Sets, costumes and lighting are all to a high standard and the scene where the pirates emerge from the depths of the back of the stage silhouetted against a blood red background, is a masterful piece of lighting design by Linda Ekholm. The small-scale scenes and well-drilled ensemble sections, with 75 pirates, maintain the pace for the most part. However, at over an hour, the first half could perhaps lose 5-10 minutes.
Sebastian Gonzalez, Jr. played Peter Pan with great stage presence and brought pathos to this character doomed to eternal loneliness through his refusal to grow up. His singing was strong and clear and he even managed to make flying on a wire believable. Joseph Morton had fun as Captain Hook and was always the centre of attention when on-stage. Michelle Little’s sensitive portrayal of Wendy kept the production in touch with reality. Various youth members of the cast showed that they are stars of the future.
Overall, this delightful show is a fine celebration of the 100th Anniversary of J.M.Barrie's classic. Chicken Shed combine an accessible production with inclusivity across a number of dimensions, thus providing an educational as well as an enjoyable experience for audiences and performers alike.
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