Chickenshed review: Love from Carmen

March 11, 2024

Cast from Love from Carmen (c) Chickenshed Theatre

Shakira Dyer enjoys modern reboot of Bizet’s classic opera

Love from Carmen is based on the French opera by Bizet where Carmen, a ‘gypsy’ factory worker, seduces the soldier Don José, causing him to fall madly in love with her and driving him to kill her.

Chickenshed’s version has a much more rebellious Carmen, although she describes herself as an independent woman and a rebel in the refugee circus. She is definitely not opposed to seducing others, and using both love and violence to get her way.

A narrator character rapped to introduce the characters and move the story along. There are two groups – a circus of refugee performers and the soldiers who guard them.

The soldiers, dressed in drab grey and singing in strict separated staccato, believe that the circus is the only thing the refugees are good for, yet they are still seen as illegal and a ‘charity case’. Yet Carmen turns the circus into a powerful symbol of the refugees’ survival and rebellion.

Within the circus, Carmen is the rebel leader – fighting for their freedom and to be seen as someone more than a circus act.

The soldiers’ captain plans to have the circus eradicated. He sends out Don José to do his dirty work. He captures Carmen and imprisons her. Carmen attempts to seduce him to get him to set her free.

The songs were updated with a fresh new rap beat and thought provoking, free-flowing lyrics to match

The choreography, sound and lighting was incredible: whether Carmen and the refugee circus – dressed in bright reds, purples and blues – doing cartwheels and backflips to represent their free spirit, or Carmen, in her red hoop, suspended in the air as part of her circus act.

Don José being imprisoned by his fellow guards to protect Carmen (c) Chickenshed Theatre

The songs from Bizet’s classic opera were updated with a fresh new rap beat and thought provoking, free-flowing lyrics to match. Carmen sings a flirtatious That’s Love song, warning about the deadly power of love, letting others know they can all too easily fall in love with her but she may not return it.

Then there’s Escamillo’s Narcissistic Personality, where the proud bullfighter-character from the original is turned into an even prouder, boastful stilt walker and dancer, played by Micheal Bossise. He was Carmen’s friend from the start and, as their relationship grows, jealousy starts to form between him and Don José.

Chickenshed’s Love from Carmen humanised Carmen more, but it also humanised Don José. He sacrificed his freedom to protect her – yet it seemed she didn’t love him in return. Whether that is because their love as a refugee and a soldier is forbidden or because of Carmen’ growing love for Escamillo is left uncertain – at least in Jose’s mind.

Don José, instead of wanting to kill Carmen out of revenge, appears to want her by his side even more desperately – and would kill anyone else in his way. This is shown shockingly in the finale with freeze frames and blackouts ending with both of them dead.

Leona Omotayo Frater adds her views

The stunning visuals combined with the exquisite singing, leave you with nothing but admiration and awe for the actors, singers, and dancers on the stage before you. A dramatic ending to a powerful storyline means that your eyes are glued to the action until the very last second.

There is a plethora of colours upon the stage through the use of costume and set design. The use of movement was fascinating, hoop swinging, contemporary dance, backflips, cartwheels, everything you would expect to see at a circus! As always, Chickenshed pride themselves on inclusivity: a fusion of performers from a multitude of races, ages, abilities and genders. Notably, this is one of the only theatre productions I have watched that included those with disabilities.

All in all, a wonderful way to spend your evening. The ensemble and the team behind it deserve a huge congratulations for pulling off a stunning production.

Chickenshed partnered with the refugee non-profit organisation, New Citizens’ Gateway, from June 2023. This partnership and the young people involved informed the representation of refugees in the show.

Love From Carmen is showing from 12th March to 24th March 2024 Get your tickets on Chickenshed’s website.

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