London’s Chicken Shed Theatre has a high reputation for innovation and its integrated classes and performances for performers with and without special needs. Anita Roddick, founder of Bodyshop, said about them:
“When you see the work of the company, all of humanity is there. I was moved and motivated by what I saw, a company which itself demonstrates a basic human right – the right of every individual to perform, irrespective of their perceived ability or background.”
The company evokes strong emotions and Jeremy Irons said at one of their events: “I was at the Oscars last Monday. I am happier to be here.”
My first experience of Chicken Shed was their recent “Peter Pan” and I was deeply impressed with the energy, visual flair and remarkable crowd choreography with up to 80 children onstage at a time and this was only one of four casts. Another intriguing aspect of “Peter Pan” was the deaf signing throughout the performance and not from a specialist at the side of the stage, but by the cast taking it in turns and sometimes with the signing movement integrated into the choreography.
I was delighted to find that Chicken Shed’s spring 2005 production is a revival of “Globaleyes”, based on issues such as inequality, violence, exploitation and hopes for a future without these aberrations. The company is working with Amnesty International and other Non-Governmental Organisations to enrich the creative process and to find new audiences. At a recent press preview I was able to see some fragments of work in progress, featuring eye-catching choreography, humour and a moving final scene, “Resurrection.” I took the opportunity to interview choreographer and dancer Christine Niering
about the revival of “Globaleyes”.
Stuart Sweeney: Why did you and the team want to address global issues?
Christine Niering: We staged this show three years ago and at the time I had a real sense of the company wanting to look outwards and acknowledge what is happening in the world. Also, to examine where we sit as a company in world politics, in the light of the challenges we face because of the inclusive aspects of our work. It seemed inspiring to use movement and physical theatre to pick up themes presented by Anita Roddick in “Take it Personally” and Naomi Klein in “No Logo”. As a company that is very much about the individual and individual expression, it seemed so right to create a work about people and the way they interact. We addressed issues such as fair trade and the environment in an emotional discourse to try to provoke and excite audiences as much as they impact on us.
Stuart: For the revival, a representative from Amnesty came to talk to the production team and cast about human rights themes. Was that useful?
Christine: It was very useful, particularly when they went through the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights with us. As a result, we decided to project the Declaration on-stage in the interval. I am very interested in the arms trade, child soldiers and the situation in Columbia and that connects with the first section of our second half, which depicts military power, whether by a super power, a rebel force or terrorists. I am also very interested in Amnesty’s Women’s Campaign, which resonates with our view of the cycle of life, Mother Earth, the situation of women, particularly oppressive situations such as prostitution and poorly paid jobs.
Stuart: Some people say that dance shouldn’t get involved in political themes. What would you say to them?
Christine: I think that dance has a unique way of communicating, not based on words, and as artists we should express our opinions. And not just a desire, but a responsibility, because art has an impact on people – they discuss the themes after the performance and those conversations may end up in the boardroom or the House of Commons. Dance can be very subtle and ambiguous, because of its non-verbal nature and I believe that can make a distinctive contribution.
Stuart: Tell us about the production and who will be involved from the various Chicken Shed groups.
Christine: This production features our adult company - we work on the production during the day and then many of the cast will deliver outreach programmes in the evenings. On-stage we have also brought in five of our youth theatre members, aged 16-17 and, on two rotas, 5 children between 7 and 10. They mainly feature at the end, when we look at positive options for the future and bring everyone together with our common humanity and let our souls fly. The children bring a real energy and innocence; not only on stage, but also in the workshop process and they have been inspirational. The teenagers bring a different energy, which we can harness for the production.
At Chicken Shed we do a lot of cross-age work, because it’s a real way of keeping honest and ensuring that you don’t get too carried away. They bring you back.
Stuart: I loved the ending where you had the young man with Down’s syndrome, who was not the victim, but the one helping an oppressed and injured character and thereby making a powerful statement against stereotyping. He also seems to be a great mover.
Christine: Phil Constantinou is not only a great mover, but also a great improviser. In a lot of our sessions he has been the stimulus for some of the choreography, which you see throughout the production. He’s amazing and has a real confidence with his body and being on-stage. We put Phil together with the other guy, Matthew, who also has an amazing stage presence, and a lot of what you see them do came from their improvisation sessions.
Globaleyes runs from 19th April to 28th May at Chicken Shed Theatre, Chase Side, Southgate, London N14. Performances are at 7.30 with Thursday matinees at 2.30. Ring the Box Office 020 8292 9222 for further details.
In June, “Globaleyes” transfers to Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre.