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Snow White (Susan Elkin reviews)

Snow White
Adapted by Lou Stein and Chickenshed
performance date: 05 Dec 2019
venue: Rayne Theatre, Chickenshed, 290 Chase Side, Southgate, London N14 4P

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (pro-am-youth)

They’re a bonkers bunch at Chickenshed – but in the nicest, most inclusive, diverse, imaginative way. Few directors would contemplate working with a cast of 800, most of them children but that’s what Lou Stein has done – again – in this show, each performance of which features one of four rotas of 200. I saw the Green Rota. And it isn’t until you see every single one of them on stage together at the end you realise what a massive undertaking this is.

Nobody at Chickenshed uses the word “disabled” so I won’t either. Suffice to say that there, in the glorious mix, are some young cast members who need help on stage. Moreover because everyone at Chickenshed learns BSL, the signing is shared among various performers and seamlessly integrated into this splendid show. It intrigued my plus one who’d never seen signing grafted in like this.

The plot is fabulous too. Imagine a feminist version based in the 1960s – cue for a glorious two hours of music studded with references, quotations and hints from composer/MD and his band of which we get an occasional glimpse on a high platform behind and above the stage.

A feisty Snow White (Cara McInanny – terrific jazz singing voice like dark chocolate) is having trouble with her shallow, vain, stepmother, Jane (Sarah Connolly) who throws a lot of pointless parties. Jealousy motivates Jane to pay her bodyguard, Jason (Nathaniel Leigertwood) to kill Snow White but, because there’s the beginning of a relationship between them he puts her on a train to the Scottish Highlands instead. There, Snow White meets a huge hippy (song and dance routines reminiscent of Hair or Godspell) community on a campsite at the heart of which is a group called the Magnificent Seven who invite her to stay with them. It’s an ingenious reworking which ends surprisingly happily with forgiveness and hope for the future. There’s even a rather neat framing device.

All this is played out on William Fricker’s magnificent set. With an aptly topical hint of Cecil Beaton in the 1964 My Fair Lady film, it consists of an elaborate archway of white shapes and a dramatic black and white chequerboard floor. At the centre is a flexible stair case which variously opens, separates and provides a quasi-balcony.

It is warmly uplifting to see so many children in such a fine show. But Chickenshed is like a family and the professional adults at the heart of this show are mostly people who have come up though Chickenshed’s classes groups and qualifications and remain connected with it – in some cases as staff members. It’s effective role modelling for young Chickenshed members.

And it’s moving when the plot of the show reflects what Chickenshed does in real life. The company’s slogan is ‘Theatre Changing Lives’. This Snow White is a child of the 1960s. She wants to change things for the better and she does.

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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