Love From Carmen at Chickenshed | Review

The ‘core’ cast list is considerable in itself, with 29 members, dwarfed by the ensemble cast list of (if I’ve counted correctly) 156. I couldn’t tell from the show’s programme if all of them appear at every performance – there’s no understudy list either, so the exact numbers at the performance I attended are anyone’s guess. Regardless, Michael Bossisse’s choreography is remarkable, and not just because, as far as I could tell, nobody bumped into one another. Harnessing the skills of individuals within the company who can do things like breakdancing and acrobatic flips, and make use of an aerial hoop, everyone else is kept busy too. The fluidity of movement goes well with the relatively briskly-paced narrative.

Love From Carmen at Chickenshed
Love From Carmen at Chickenshed

But the final scenes are rattled through so quickly that it wasn’t entirely clear how the various strands were resolved. This may not, in the grand scheme of things, have mattered too much, given this was in effect, a contemporary remake of the Georges Bizet opera Carmen, which premiered in 1875, and the outcome is pretty much the same. Set in the near future – a world in which mobile telephony is considerably less ubiquitous than it is now. Or perhaps it’s just that one can’t dance, sing and scroll through messages at once. Social media is explicitly referenced, as the dialogue seems to suggest the proverbial court of public opinion, imperfect as it is, is – on the balance of probabilities – fairer than the ‘kangaroo court’ Carmen (Bethany Hamlin) finds herself being tried in.

The familiar strains of Bizet’s music permeate throughout, which doesn’t feel like a constraint on a production that relies heavily on lyrics being rapped. The rap music, as it does in Hamilton, allows for a large amount of narrative to be disseminated in a short space of time, although the music was so loud (at least, from my vantage point) that some of the lyrics weren’t as clear as they could have been. In an opera, if someone is stabbed, it sometimes follows that the victim sings for twenty minutes, or more – here, characters meet their end with the efficiency of a Shakespeare tragedy.

The lighting was varied – there were moments when I had no idea who was singing a particular verse, and found myself scanning the stage to discover who had the solo part. At other times, however, the spotlights worked brilliantly, which only highlighted all the more when it didn’t work so well. Selective use of handheld microphones was a curious choice (some of the principals had headsets).

What the Minister (Ashley Driver) wants, the Minister gets, we’re told – presumably the Minister for Immigration, given the refugee camp setting. Cabinet reshuffles and General Elections are for another show at another time. Without giving it all away, things got rather heavy-handed and called to mind the ‘hostile environment’ vocabulary of the Home Office in recent years. That said, the youthful vibrancy of the huge cast is pleasing to see, and if anything, there are impressive dance moves to witness. But there is some ambiguity, story-wise, as to how the show arrives at its conclusion, and if the production can resolve its sound issues, it would be more easily understood.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Don Jose’s heart beats for Carmen, while Micaela pines for Don Jose’s affection. And then there’s Escamillo, wrapped up in his love for… himself!

Picture this: a not-so-distant future where Carmen, a rebel at her core and a refugee by circumstance, takes centre stage every evening in the Refugee Camp Circus. Controlled by Don Jose, an occupying army guard, Carmen and her circus comrades serve as the perfect diversion, keeping rebellion at bay. But can she break free from Don Jose’s grasp and lead her fellow camp dwellers to freedom?

Rayne Theatre, Chickenshed
Chase Side Southgate London N14 4PE

1 thought on “Love From Carmen at Chickenshed | Review”

  1. I agree!

    If you are seeking a visual and auditory sensation, then Chickenshed’s Love from Carmen might just be for you. The stunning visuals combined with the exquisite singing, leaving one with nothing but admiration and awe for the actors, singers, and dancers on the stage before you. What can I say? Chickenshed producing another memorable show and for me, this one undoubtedly blew me away. Bizet’s opera, Carmen, retold through rap, opera, movement, and circus. It’s bold, brave, and highly ambitious choices ensure the production maintains its entertainment value.

    The main character, Carmen (played by Bethany Hamlin) provided the audience with a profusion of sass, confidence and ability displaying her instinctive flair for capturing the conviction of Carmen. At the forefront of her community at the refugee circus, Carmen manages her world through lust and power to get what she wants. Despite the guards believing otherwise, she attempts to conquer the enemies and leads the circus through courage by revolting the leader. A dramatic ending to a powerful storyline means that your eyes are glued to the stage until the very last second.

    This unique and modern adaption to Carmen, a plethora of colours upon the stage through the use of costume and stage 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, one of the only theatre productions I have watched including 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.

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