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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Crime Of The Century
Chickenshed    December 2020

Produced and recorded by Chickenshed in 2010, this powerful one-hour piece is re-released to the sad discovery that it is no less timely a decade later.

Its subject is the seemingly inescapable path that takes some urban young people toward gangs, crime, violence and early death. It is all the more powerful by operating through indirection, generally avoiding lecture or preaching and instead employing the tools of theatre to evoke the emotional content of steps along the way.

The cast of ten only occasionally speak, rather moving, miming or dancing to a soundscape made largely of recorded voices. These range from the sermon at the funeral of a fourteen year old, through textbook lectures on the sociology of crime to the random words of young people themselves.

One particularly powerful sequence, for example, reminds us that these are just children by having them move nervously about while a string of individual voices call out 'Mum?'

A slow duet of movement between a male and female performer evokes, without any explicit labelling, a mother's attempt to protect her child, while a more active group sequence evolves from innocent schoolyard games through competitive play to violent fighting.

Some episodes do rely more directly on text. A couple of kids with nothing else to do work themselves up to a rage against an innocent stranger, a policeman and an A&E doctor break the fourth wall to give the audience some facts and statistics about what they see every day, and some guys use rap to try to explain feelings they don't otherwise have the words for.

The least effective elements in the show are the recorded voices of sociologists and educators, because of course we've heard it all before. But authors-director-choreographers David Carey and Christine Niering know that. Yes, you've heard it all before, they seem to say. But now feel it.

And the very inventive and evocative use of movement, music, mime, dance and acting by a fully committed young cast do indeed get through to us as if we hadn't heard it all before.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Crime Of The Century - Chickenshed 2020