I was recently invited along to the Chickenshed Theatre to watch their production ‘All I’ve Known’, based around the theme of fostering. The concept of the play was that of a foster child returning to his foster family and reconnecting with his past after an absence of many years. I was pleased to find that the play was delivered with creativity, humour and incredible skill and that the Chickenshed Theatre took an inclusive approach in bringing people together of all ages and backgrounds, taking on challenging subjects and educating both audiences and participants.
They play includes many anecdotes interwoven together throughout the production, but the main story starts with Harry appearing in his foster mother’s garden after his disappearance 17 years ago. There are some extremely creative group scenes including a very physical and amusing depiction of a busy morning routine, which saw the characters throwing objects and themselves around. Particular credit must go to the acrobat, Mark Lees, who surely found each performance fairly exhausting! There are also scenes from a more individual perspective, such as one where Harry and his foster brother deal with racial abuse aimed towards them. There is a clear exploration of trans-racial fostering throughout the play which is another example of Chickenshed’s willingness to address sensitive issues.
The performance by the cast was strong and some scenes were particularly emotional, bringing a tear to the eye. The actors were talented and adaptable, able to change into new characters or different moments in time with swift and seamless adjustments to hair and clothing. The cast should be congratulated on their moving portrayals of anger and confusion, displaying the emotions felt by both the parents and children at various points through monologues and during scenes with each other. The performances were complimented throughout by confident and intuitive musical choices by the composer, Dave Carey.
It was apparent that the production was a labour of love, painstakingly developed by writer and director Rachel Yates, over the period of two years and based on her own experience of her foster brother returning to her family. The inclusion of sound extracts from interviews from those who have fostered, or been fostered, provided a wonderful insight into people’s experiences with the care system.
The production was sold out for many of the performances and there is now talk of a UK tour; let’s hope that this comes to fruition and that many more people are able to see this honest exploration of what it means to care for some of our society’s most vulnerable children.
Shelina Hargrove, Carer Recruitment Officer, NFA London