Rachel Yates in Chickenshed's "Slender Threads"“Slender Threads”
By Stuart Sweeney
Chickenshed is an extraordinary enterprise. Its central tenet consists of an integration policy that ensures that all are catered for, including disability groups, and theatre projects that encompass: contact with hundreds of kids every week; advanced courses in inclusive performance; and spectacular, innovative Christmas shows. But for me their most noteworthy work comprises their dance dramas based on social themes: “Globaleyes”, on the environment and globalisation; “As the Mother of a Brown Boy”, telling the story of a Chickenshed member killed by a chasing police car after a robbery; and “Crime of the Century” showing how the seeds of knife crime propagate and the resulting destructive impact on individuals and communities.
But with “Slender Threads” the company tackles an even tougher subject – cancer and its consequences for a family. The central characters are restricted to a mother diagnosed with breast cancer, her husband and their young daughter. But alongside these figures are dopplegangers interpreting the family's emotional trauma through movement. As always, Chickenshed brings a full palette of theatrical elements to bear on the theme. Interview voice-overs with victims and medical staff provide context and background information. Stunning video projection and lighting enhance the dramatic quality of the work. The music and movement interpret the cauldron of emotion and fear that has overtaken the family home. Particularly effective are the dance segments where the performers use four moveable wall sections to stretch and clamber over.
But although this is a rich, total theatre experience, drama lies at the heart of this production. In David Carey's script, rather than a noble stoic figure, the Mother is initially a curmudgeon, reacting frantically to the perilous journey lying before her and rejecting her husband's attempt to calm her panic We follow the Mother step by step through the process of option analysis, mastectomy, a return to something like normality including a seaside holiday. Then the news that the cancer has returned. At the close, there is no resolution, just living with the cancer, an acceptance of the situation and the Mother's recognition of the key role of the family in keeping her sane. Rachel Yates as the Mother is on stage for most of the hour long show and her intensity and commitment compel belief in her situation and character.
It's possible that some theatre goers will be discouraged by the subject matter, but that would be a pity. The visual and dramatic elements of the production are mesmerising, but above all “Slender Threads” provides a life-enhancing experience of how individuals can come to terms with the gravest situations. A must-see production.