Review: Badjelly’s Bad Christmas

How often is theatre truly inclusive? It seems to me that we take the majority of what the West End and other centrally-based London venues produce as an outright accessible way of doing and seeing theatre. I couldn’t have been any more wrong upon seeing Badjelly’s Bad Christmas by Chickenshed Theatre at its Rayne Theatre in Southgate. Chickenshed has one vision: the inclusion of all members within the creative progress as equals. There are no auditions, no boundaries, and at the very heart, accessibility.

Badjelly’s Bad Christmas is inspired by the characters and writings of Spike Milligan. It’s peppered with Twytts, Itchy Koos and Bumbly Boos. It’s a little off-the-wall, but absolutely a joy and delight to watch. Featuring a rotating cast of 600 (with 150 cast members playing each night!), combined with  nonsense rhymes and a story with witches and love-askew, Chickenshed has the best show to frolic with after Christmas has passed. It’s fun, it’s bursting with imagination, and the cast gives more energy in one single show than half of the shows I saw last year put together.

The show is based around an adventure which sees Grandad (Joseph Morton) and his two grandchildren, Laura (Kelly-Anne Taylor) and Kate (Lucy-Mae Beacock), on the hunt for the Badjelly witch (Charlotte Bull) to reclaim the stolen magical baubles. Badjelly covers much in its two hours, with witty songs and rhymes, a hip-hop rap off, and plenty of ensemble numbers which see the stage bursting with talent. As the central characters, Morton, Taylor, Beacock and Bull are excellently fluid, strong in their delieveries and certainly capable of holding our attention throughout. What’s wonderful to see is Taylor and Beacock working with the ‘fixed cast’ so easily, as if they could quite happily perform every show with such energy and delight.

David Carey’s script keeps the pace moving, and shifting between locations and nonsense that, coupled with the lyrics of Spike Milligan, produces a  somewhat whacky tale where we never quite know what might happen next. Under the careful direction of Louise Perry and Mary Ward, Badjelly engages both the cast and audience, thrilling us with cleverly-devised staging and all the fun to be expected from a Christmas-time performance.

Where Badjelly really excels is the continual revealing of new devices, characters, and methods of presenting the story to the audience.  Chickenshed is relentless in making the show accessible, fun and for everyone. The on-stage signing (Jojo Morrall, Stephanie Dye and Anthony Pickersgill) was excellently presented to be part of the action. Badjelly also gives individuals within the cast the chance to shine through solo songs, dancing or characters, proving that even the youngest members of the cast are destined to grace this stage for a long time.

It’s not often that a venue affects me as much as a show, but you can tell that rooted at the heart of Badjelly’s Bad Christmas is the support, determination and love from the staff and the young people involved. Chickenshed is built upon accessible dreams, and I for one am starstruck.

(This review relates to the Red Cast who performed the matinee I saw, but if they are anything to go by, the other rotating cast will be equally good!)

Badjelly’s Bad Christmas is at Chickenshed Theatre until 15th January. For more information, and to book tickets see its website here.