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Waiting for the Ship to Sail (Susan Elkin reviews)

Waiting for the Ship to Sail
An artistic response to the urgent and pressing questions of global migration, and investigates the concepts of national and personal identity.
performance date: 16 Mar 2020
venue: Chickenshed Theatre, Chase Side, Southgate, London N14 4PE


The poignant, powerful ensemble piece looks at immigration from the point of view of the migrants themselves. It features 200 Chickenshed members, students, staff and alumni most of whom are on stage most of the time – telling stories through words, dance, song and theatricality.

We start with a long pre-show prologue as we find our seats during which we hear a register of immigrants who have died – drowned, lost, suicide, police brutality and more. We listen in silent horror while cast members act out some of the tensions in slow motion.

Thereafter we’re led to consider what we mean by home, the importance of family, the horror of the overcrowded boats, the ruthlessness of the people smugglers and the treatment of immigrants on arrival. There is a marvellous moment when MD Dave Carey, who composed the music for this show, is wheeled centre stage, still playing the white piano on a mobile platform which then becomes a refugee boat. And a word of praise for Andrew Caddies’s lighting because it’s warmly atmospheric against the backdrop of Sebastian Gonzalez’s set which includes scaffold, stairs and three levels for cast to stand on against the back wall.

Inclusivity is central to everything Chickenshed does and stands for and the whole concept of this show is to draw attention to the plight of migrants. It contends that they should be inclusively welcomed because we all descend from migrants which has what has made Britain what it is today – the piece ends movingly with various cast members speaking of fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers who came from overseas and who became integrated, working in a wide variety of fields.

There is also agonising sadness – the young man who lost his younger brother’s hand as he climbed into a boat and the mother whose child was no longer in her arms when she woke up, for example.

The vibrant dancing – there are some talented dancers in the company – underpins the message. And I liked the imaginative choreography such as one character climbling up a lifted table held at 45 degrees and then over a block of bent backs to represent obstacles. Also striking is the contribution of Edith WeUtonga who plays various African percussion alongside Carey and sings hauntingly.

It’s a compelling, thought-provoking show and yet another credit to Chickenshed which does an impressively wide range of work these days. Congratulations to director, Lou Stein and the many people who work with him.

Unfortunately this looks likely to be my last review for the forseeable future. Just before I arrived at Chickenshed the news came through that the Government is advising people not to go to theatres because of Covid-19. That means most will close for the duration of the current crisis. I hope to be back when it’s over.

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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