Over the course of the pandemic, Chickenshed has released a number of videos of past shows demonstrating that they seldom shy away from tackling the big issues of the day. The plight of refugees, global warming, civil rights, domestic violence and mental health have all come under their watchful eye. Their latest release, Crime Of The Century, focuses on knife crime. Even though the piece is over ten years old and was devised as a response to a number of fatal stabbings, as a message makes clear at the start of the recording, “Tragically, ongoing events around this issue have highlighted its continuing need and impact”. This alone speaks volumes.
It’s a difficult production to categorize so perhaps I shouldn’t try but its style has much in common with Theatre In Education projects – as it played to, among others, school audiences this is hardly surprising. TIE has been derided for its sometimes over earnest approach and, on occasions, patronising tone but this is not evident here. It is mostly a dance and movement led piece which stylises violence without seeking to airbrush or glorify it. It examines a number of reasons why knife crime occurs: boredom, lack of direction, parental and educational establishment failures, political and legal inadequacy and so on. Above all it shows that there is a lack of co-ordination and empathetic joined up thinking among the powers that be. While none of this comes as a particular surprise, no one individual circumstance is given prominence and the audience is left to make up its own minds as to the cause(s) of the problem.
What is made clear, is that the tide is becoming ever less controllable. This is cleverly demonstrated by a simple visual metaphor as one performer gets out of a chair to be pushed back down again. As soon as this happens someone else pops up and then another and another. A couple of the cast continue to reseat the others but soon the flood of bodies popping up gets out of hand and overwhelms the action. In another startlingly brutal scene, a chair representing where someone “disrespected” someone else by sitting down on their perceived territory is smashed to pieces – and this is no stage effect. Contrasting with this are many scenes where movement is far more subtle and controlled as participants play out their characters’ fears and insecurities. There is also a good deal of ritualised repetition – the cycle of violence, recriminations and further violence are made manifest. As has come to be expected of Chickenshed shows, the team of ten performers are precise, controlled and completely at one with their subject matter – two of the cast (Dina Williams and Loren Jacobs) are credited as assistant choreographers.
Dave Carey and Christina Niering are responsible for direction and writing, though clearly this has been a collaborative effort between creatives and performers as the evidently devised nature of the show shines through. An important integral element is the sound production – Carey, again with Saul Gillingham. For this sets the action in context with disembodied voices passing expert opinion and also features a parent(?) at a victim’s funeral urging people to connect with each other. Most telling, especially as it plays over the start and returns at the end, is the voice of a keynote speaker at a conference listing and relisting a litany of questions about how things have come to this pass. Significantly no answers are forthcoming.
Crime Of The Century is without doubt a hard hitting examination of a modern problem – and quite rightly so. Chickenshed are once again to be commended for tackling a thorny subject, in this instance borne out of personal experience; one of the victims which prompted this response was the nephew of their Director of Education and the cousin of two of the cast members. As and when things get back “to normal” it is a piece that could, sadly, still be played with little change to the script or the performance.
Production photos by John Pridmore, Laraine Krantz and Antonia Jater
Crime Of the Century is available on Chickenshed’s You Tube channel– click here
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