The Toymaker's Child

"Innovative, inclusive and imaginative"

The Toymaker lives a simple and quiet life. He has just one child, who often plays alone and rarely brings friends home from school. Worried his daughter may be lonely, the Toymaker uses a magical 3D printer to create an AI companion for her!

With innovative, imaginative, and inclusive practices, a combination of Dave Carey’s purpose written score and Andrew Caddies’ technological elements transport us into Katy’s world. At this performance this principal role was played by Amy Frost and she was absolutely fantastic, not only keeping up with but at times leading the adult cast.

The rest of the characters are portrayed by an ensemble of 200 other young people, who completely fill the stage, making this retelling of Pinocchio a larger than life experience. While this sometimes creates a bit of an overwhelming spectacle, the slightly crammed stage is easily overlooked when considering Chickenshed’s ethos of providing as many opportunities to these performers as possible, who often would not get the same offers elsewhere. 

Both this approach to casting (by Paul and JoJo Morrall) and the story itself are empowering, heart-warming, and uplifting, especially in line with the spirit of goodwill and togetherness at this time of year. 

The concept of working as a team is highly reflected by the dancers themselves, who often act as creative enablers for one another when facing certain challenges on stage. Societal barriers are often what exclude some performers from productions in the first place, whereas this school takes pride in everyone's differences and ensures all are accommodated for.  It's really wonderful to see! 

To add to the idea of integrated accessibility, the whole show is BSL interpreted by the characters inside of the scenes, instead of the more typical approach of having one or two designated ‘assisted’ performances for those who find this provision helpful. The script was translated by the wonderful Eva Stavrou and Gina Giles, and all of the students study the language as part of their curriculum - meaning everyone is able to join in equally. 

Especially as a new musical, there is a lot riding on the success of the songs, and fortunately the music was catchy and creative, and people were humming the tunes during the interval and after the show. Youth band director Phil Haines and bass mentor Áine Smith use these numbers to bring a modern, urban sound to the story.

A well developed set expanded across the entirety of the large space, creating a sense that it continues to grow farther still as it disappears into the wings. Transitions between locations utilised a variety of levels and dynamic decisions, including the build of capsules higher up within the scenery that change along with the plot as it progresses. This choice was visually interesting and also allowed the huge cast to move around safely and clear the stage with ease.

The lighting operation was the only thing that sometimes fell short, as characters would walk out of a spot or interpreters weren't clearly visible. This was only ever momentary and proved nothing more than a minor inconvenience given how impressive the actual design was - keeping up with the busy pace set by the directors (Cara McInanny, Michael Bossisse, Jonny Morton, and Bethany Hamlin) and filling the auditorium with vibrancy and colour throughout.

I'd recommend The Toymaker's Child to anyone who can find the time to see it, as it's nothing like other shows currently running in London, and is playing at Chickenshed Theatre until January the 13th.  Tickets available here: The Toymaker's Child - Chickenshed

Review written by Katie McConnelll

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