Jessica Michael reviews Chickenshed show ‘Shakespeare’s Island’
Delve into the mind of Shakespeare! Literature’s genius of plays, poems and other written pieces, using play on words and so many other language devices I cannot even begin to list. So what happens when Shakespeare himself ends up on a desert island with writer’s block? Characters from eight of his plays come to life of course and take Shakespeare and his beloved audience on an imaginative, educational and psychological journey…
That said, Shakespeare’s Island, a new production by Chickenshed Theatre, is actually aimed at young people. Mixed throughout with both traditional Shakespearian and modern language, it is an accessible play for every age and background.
The proof of its wide appeal was shown amongst the audience when the 12-year-olds in front of me were laughing at the same time as the elderly people beside me!
It is a fast paced musical, although I use the term ‘musical’ loosely as it was the acting that captivated me.
A swaying palm tree projected onto a curtain welcomes the audience. There’s sand and a blue sky.
The plot: our dear old Shakespeare (played by Ashley Maynard) gets stranded on a desert island and has writer’s block. So naturally, he goes stir crazy and a group of characters from eight of his plays appear before him. Prospero (Paul Harris) from the Tempest is a judge. He offers two options: Shakespeare’s legacy lives on or dies along with him. The other characters play the jury to decide his fate.
At times, the acting is traditionally over-dramatic but this suits the show, as Shakespearian theatrics are hardly subtle. For example, a knight falls to the ground and his death is amusingly prolonged. A fake director shouts, “Upstage left” so that the ‘dead’ knight can shuffle into the correct ‘resting place’.
Following seamlessly but unexpectedly is the ‘Hungry Lion’ song – says it all really. At the end of the day, Shakespeare’s Island is hugely entertaining.
The chemistry in the romantic scene between Romeo (Zack Field) and Juliet (Anita O-Koleosho) is undeniable and sealed with a kiss. It’s enhanced by a tremendous dance sequence throughout.
Audience participation is on a high when ‘Everywoman’ (Jelena Budimir) comes into the stands to tell us all to declare “we’re not Shakespeare” and the show ends with the joyful tune ‘Sing if you’re not Shakespeare’.
All together, the audience united through Shakespeare’s Island. Musically, I cannot fault the band’s well-timed contributions, nor the wonder of the lyrics.
The curtain comes down and the audience is met with the same swaying palm tree that began the show.
It’s fair to say, we went on an intriguing holiday with the one and only Shakespeare himself. I experienced all the ideas and feelings of a Shakespearean play but from an exciting new perspective. I left the auditorium feeling elated and educated!
Chickenshed is a unique inclusive theatre company and performing arts charity based in north London. It helps young performers of literally any mental or physical ability grow into confident actors, seeing their talents realised and used to their benefit.
Let’s put it this way, it wouldn’t be odd to see a wheelchair roll across the stage, with a worthy and capable actor in it.