The director of Chickenshed’s Christmas production speaks to James Cracknell about what audiences can expect this year
This year’s Christmas show at Chickenshed is special not just because it will be the first major ensemble production at the Southgate theatre since the pandemic began, but also because of what it will mean to the person directing it.
When Belinda McGuirk first started acting with Chickenshed, she was still in school; 28 years later she is sitting in the director’s chair for the first time, in charge of co-ordinating four rota casts of 200 performers – 800 in total – in this year’s production of Ever After – A Mixed Up Fairytale.
Speaking to the Dispatch ahead of a 46-show run between 24th November and 8th January, Belinda explained why Chickenshed means so much to her. She said: “When I was part of the youth theatre, everyone was here for the same reason, which is good theatre. The people [at Chickenshed] are so diverse, but at my naive age of 14 it wasn’t so apparent to me, it was just that everyone wanted to be there.
“As I worked here, I started to understand the inclusive nature of it and how that can inform the creativity and make it that much more interesting – it can make it more hard work, but what you get out of it makes it that much better.”
In her long career at Chickenshed, Belinda has worked in every department, from music and dance to education. Her first step towards directing was assisting Chickenshed’s former artistic director Lou Stein in the 2019 production of Snow White.
How is she feeling ahead of her directorial debut? “Something that has kept me going here is the trust that people have placed in me by casting me and helping me go for certain jobs.
“It [directing] is a huge responsibility. Because I have been around for quite a few years, just speaking to volunteers who are saying I will be brilliant and the expectation people have of a Chickenshed Christmas show, and because people know me, there is pressure.
“I am feeling that pressure but not in the sense that I am tearing my hair out or anything.”
Ever After is a mash up of several Brothers Grimm fairytales, including Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin and The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and is described as a “dazzling and unforgettable theatrical journey for adults and children alike”.
Belinda said: “Looking at what we wanted to do this year, we wanted to do something familiar but that could be updated for now. A mixed up fairytale is exactly what it is – the Brothers Grimm drop their stories and they all get muddled up.
“I wouldn’t say it was panto, but I would call it a family show; there is something for everyone, aged from five to 85.”
One Chickenshed tradition for its Christmas productions is to bring the show’s entire cast on stage at the end, an impressive visual when 200 people are involved. Sadly that won’t be happening this year because of concerns over people’s welfare.
Belinda explained: “We really tried to see if we could make it happen but we are not going to have that this year. We have a duty of care to our performers and the audience. We have tried to come up with a different way to do it instead.”
The Finchley-based director adds: “I am just incredibly lucky to have these amazing people around me at Chickenshed; their talent, genius, ideas, their care, support and commitment, I think that’s why I’m not pulling my hair out.”
Ever After – A Mixed Up Fairytale is on at Chickenshed Theatre in Chase Side, Southgate, from Wednesday, 24th November until Saturday, 8th January. Tickets range from £10 to £22.50, for ages of five years upwards. To book:
Call 020 8292 9222
Email [email protected]