The Washing Line  

Chickenshed’s new spring show, The Washing Line, opens in March and explores the world of cults, through the story of Jim Jones and The People’s Temple, its ideals and aims and, ultimately, its horrific end. “We were looking for a better world. We found a nightmare”

The cast includes 150 students, studying on Chickenshed’s inclusive Further and Higher Education courses. Paul Morrall, Chickenshed’s Director of Education Training and Outreach, explains:  “By inclusive we mean that education and performing arts, studied and accredited at our theatre, is open to the widest possible range of Lived Experience and underrepresentation backgrounds. This production is geared towards empowering our students to challenge the misconceptions of what exploitation, radicalisation, brainwashing and mind manipulation actually are.”

Paul passionately believes that young people are best placed to understand how and why people want to control, manipulate and eventually exploit them and others. However, young people are often either patronised for their perceived susceptibility to exploitation or seen as being passive receptors who are then groomed to become exploitation agents themselves.

Bethany Hamlin and Michael Bossisse are two of Chickenshed’s emerging creative leaders, who are bringing this story to the stage. Both are graduates of Chickenshed’s Education programmes and now deliver the Education and Outreach programme, as well performing and directing.

As part of her final year on the Foundation Degree Programme, Bethany led the original research group who discovered the story of Jonestown. Having seen a documentary about the massacre, Bethany was drawn to the idea of presenting the story within a piece of live theatre as their final production.

The feedback to the 2017 student performance with a cast of just 30 in a Studio Theatre, was that it was the perfect material for one of Chickenshed’s ‘large scale’ immersive theatre experiences in the main house. The story continued to intrigue the original creatives who felt there was more to it that they wanted to tell. 

A key element to Chickenshed’s inclusive devising approach is the use of the ‘lived experience’ as a starting point to explore authentic perspectives on themes which have social and community relevance. For this reason, the creative team felt they wanted to dig deeper into the lives of the Jonestown Community and provide a space for their stories to be told. The team have invested time collecting information from documentaries and interviews with survivors to produce an honest and raw narrative. Bethany explains “We want to focus on the sense of ‘community’ and why people felt they needed to join Jonestown in the first place. What were their lives like before? What was America like? What was the world like? We always said we wanted to tell their stories, rather than focus on Jim Jones himself.”

In this way, as well as telling the story of the Community they were running to, The Washing Line presents an image of the world they were escaping from.

Michael describes the story as ‘mind-blowing’, especially considering that it’s based on true events. He and Bethany believe the performance will provide a background to explore contemporary themes such as grooming, social exclusion and even betrayal.

Chickenshed’s creative team and education mentors will support the cast of young people as they carefully unwrap this story – which began in a time before they were born – so that they can find the relevance to their own lives today. 

Bethany says “We think it is important for young people to recognise when someone’s power can change their own morals and beliefs.” Michael agrees “It is so important to highlight the red flags to young people who can be prone to grooming in their own lives without even being aware. They crave the sense of belonging, as we all do. This story is showing that it’s easier than we think to be put in dangerous situations, as they are often masked with glamour, rather than the reality.”

In addition to empowering the cast and audience to identify and avoid toxic experiences of community engagement, The Washing Line communicates the valuable message of ‘community’ as offered by Chickenshed itself. With the ensemble cast representing so many different lived experiences, and demonstrating through their presence together on stage, that exclusion barriers can be overcome, the production aims to provide an example of positive community co-existence. 

The process models the potential of collective responsibility to bring about good change if it is underpinned by a valuing of individual thought and action. Chickenshed’s hope is to prompt a depth and breadth of conversation, between cast and audience, that results in a collective responsibility to seek solutions for the issues affecting us all. 

The Washing Line

at Chickenshed Thursday 10 March – Saturday 26 March

To book: Telephone
020 8292 9222, email or visit  

Photo credit: Bethany Hamlin performing in 2017 Foundation Degree production ‘What’s Wrong with Jim’