society/company: Chickenshed (directory)
performance date: 20 Jul 2017
venue: Chickenshed Theatre
David Walliams’ surreally bonkers but heartwarmingly hopeful story of friendship could have been written for Chickenshed with its “no pigeon holes” mission of inclusivity. Five children, one of them seriously, probably terminally, ill are in an old fashioned hospital ward presided over by a draconian, comically nasty, Miss Trunchbull-like, matron played by Sarah Connolly. Four of the children – and eventually all five – form a rolling “midnight gang” which involves creeping, strictly against the rules, round the hospital after lights out in search of imaginative adventures as a form of escape from the misery of life on the ward which includes cornflakes soused in cold tea for breakfast.
Yossi Goodlink as Tom gives a warm performance as a chirpy boy injured by a cricket ball and thrilled to escape from his ghastly boarding school, although sad that his parents have apparently abandoned him. Tamika Armstrong creates a feisty girl – all four limbs in plaster – who happily leads the group. Finn Walters is good as the temporarily blind Robin who wants to be a musician and George (Joe Booth) is a plump boy with a penchant for chocolates and a flair for making cutting comments – and cunning plans such as drugging the chocolates which he knows Matron will confiscate, scoff and then fall asleep. The fifth child is Sally, played by Chloe Stevenson, whose dream future life is dramatically and movingly enacted for her at the end by which time each child has seen a heartfelt wish come true.
There’s delightful work from Ashley Driver as Hospital Porter who lives and breathes for the hospital and is much loved despite his “ugliness”. And the moment at the end when Michael Bossisse’s hilarious (ham West Indian accent) Tootsie coyly invites him to sleep on her sofa packs a very powerful message.
Keith Dunne’s set is quite something too. It has the name of the hospital in reverse and a clock tower above the internal set which has a lurid institutional turquoise floor and is dominated by clinical wall tiles – from which emerge various smaller items as imagination takes over.
Lou Stein, Chickenshed’s newish Artistic Director, directs this show and ensures that the acting quality is such that the diverse cast of 14 blends well together. Many of them have been Chickenshed members since childhood. Several have completed (or are working towards) BTEC or degree qualifications at Chickenshed. Several have stayed on as members of staff.
Lots of delighted laughter bubbled from the children in the audience on press night, an occasion made special by the presence of Walliams himself. He posed for lots of photographs with his young fans in the interval and spoke at the end of the show, publicly telling a thrilled cast that he liked this production better than any other adaptation of any of his other books.
First published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Chickenshed-The%20Midnight%20Gang&reviewsID=2909