Blowin’ in the Wind review at the Chickenshed, London – ‘impassioned and committed’
Never let it be said that Chickenshed lacks ambition. This fierce ode to civil rights movements, taking the Bob Dylan protest song of the title as its cue, features a cast of hundreds, a live band, a multitude of music styles including folk, gospel and rap, video projections, voice-overs from actual historical figures and numerous dance and physical theatre sequences.
A series of declamatory musical scenes is linked by a loose narrative thread in which Rosa Parks (Jojo Morrall), travelling on the bus in which she triumphantly refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, observes struggles against oppressive societies throughout recent history.
These include Argentina’s Mothers of the Disappeared, the Berlin Wall, Black Lives Matter and the ongoing Dakota Pipeline protests. The latter sequence in particular, placing the battle against Donald Trump’s multibillion-dollar oil pipeline in the context of American colonisation, would suggest there are no prizes for guessing the inspiration of this paean to liberty campaigners.
The breathtaking scope of all this is no less impressively orchestrated, with creator Lou Stein’s direction seamlessly interlinking the multiple entrances and exits of the huge, youthful and diverse cast. These include Chickenshed’s students and children’s theatre group – a sequence involving 50-plus of its members depicting the harrowing plight of child soldiers is particularly moving.
Towards the end, the interval-less production can feel weighed down with worthiness unleavened by lighter notes. However, every single member of the sprawling cast, across all groups and age ranges, performs with a commitment and earnestness that’s testimony not only to their dedication, but also to that of the entire production team and of Chickenshed’s devotedly inclusive, nurturing environment.
Those who wish to witness theatre’s extraordinary power to bring a diverse community together to sing out its aspirations and hopes as one should head to north London without delay.