Chickenshed revives Christmas show to mark 40th anniversary

Enfield Independent: NOW: stars of the show Emma and Robin NOW: stars of the show Emma and Robin

A cold and frosty Christmas 21-years-ago a group of very excited children performed their specially written festive show for Chickenshed patron Princess Diana and her two young sons.

For two of those wide-eyed stars, Robin Shillinglaw and Emma Cambridge, The Night Before Christmas sparked a passion within them that is still burning bright to this day.

Now all grown up, Chickenshed has remained an integral part of their lives and they are now stepping back onto the stage to help show a whole new generation of children just how magical the world of theatre can be.

To mark its 40th year, Chickenshed is reviving the show and giving more than 800 actors the chance to perform on stage at its theatre in Southgate.

For Emma performing the yuletide play again has brought back “lots of great memories“.

The High Wycombe resident, who was born with Down Syndrome, was just eight when she starred as a Sleigh Kid with Robin in the 1992 original, which was written around the personalities of its young stars.

The 30-year-old says: “It gave me a chance to be a person and have my own voice and gave me a lot of inspiration. I was shy and in the corner until Robin came up to me.“ Speaking about performing for Princess Diana she says: “I remember we went backstage and met her and she said she wanted to be a dancer“.

She and Robin are both part of a core cast this time round, who are in all 59 performances. Emma will be playing the Matchstick Seller and Robin will take the role of a Reindeer who leads the children on their adventure.

The show, which uses integrated sign language, is set on Christmas Eve when a group of excited children tear into their huge sack of presents and find gifts that were meant for Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge and The Snow Queen. They realise they must journey to magical faraway lands to return these presents, learning the true meaning of Christmas as they go – and all before midnight.

Thinking back to his boyhood performance, Robin, who lives in Borehamwood, says: “I remember we had to sing the national anthem and I was wearing my pyjamas. I was 13, and probably still am on the inside really, even though I’m 34.

“Emma was eight when we did the show at The Place. It’s weird because I didn’t really realise how much of an effect it had on me until recently.

He was sitting next to Emma when he heard the news that they would be reviving the show and says: “I didn’t anticipate how moving I would find it because it conjured up all these memories of being a child and having my mind probed.

“As one of the six children we had lots of ideas and they would bounce things off us and then rewrite the script.

“I was quite precocious and bossy, being the oldest of the six children, and that really came out.

“Emma was the youngest, cutest and most imaginative, and really stole the hearts of most of the characters in the play and the audience. We really naturally found each other at that time in our lives.“ He adds:“I was so naive and was just enjoying myself. I certainly didn’t think in 21 years I would still be working for the company.“ Now an associate producer for the company he adds: “I was caught up in the magic of it and in some ways I have never got out of it.

“Chickenshed nurtured something in me that allowed me to be excited and playful and get lost in my imagination and the show really embraces that.“ He is loving helping to introduce it to the next generation and adds:“Variety really is the spice of Chickenshed life. One of the reasons I have kept doing Chickenshed as long as I have is it’s never the same. It’s ironic I’m saying that seeing as we are doing the same, but we are doing it with new blood and the new kids breathe new life into it.

“There’s such a difference between each rota. When you see a six-year-old buzzing about putting their heart and soul into getting it right for this huge creative thing it’s so inspiring.“

Chickenshed, Chase Side, Southgate, November 27 to January 11. Details: 020 8292 9222, chickenshed.org.uk

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