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General News11th March 2024

Icon Theatre, ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company and Amina Khayyam Dance Company present Ghost Ships at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

This autumn, award-winning Medway-based Icon Theatre presents its latest production, Ghost Ships at The Historic Dockyard Chatham from Wednesday 25 – Saturday 28 September 2024, commemorating 40 years since the former Royal Dockyard’s closure.

This new large-scale immersive dance-theatre work is a co-production with acclaimed Hip Hop dance company ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company, best known for their full-length dance works, including the West End show Message In A Bottle and Sylvia at The Old Vic starring Beverly Knight, and award-winning South Asian dance company, Amina Khayyam Dance Company.

Ghost Ships will combine Hip Hop and Kathak dance with spectacular set pieces, projections, spoken word, and an original new score. The work will feature a company of over 150 people including professional dancers, community performers and young people, and will be performed in No. 5 Covered Slip, a monumental structure where ships for the Royal Navy were made and launched for over 100 years.

Chatham Dockyard is one of the most historically significant Dockyards in the world. Operating from 1567 to 1984, its ships took part in early naval battles for territories including Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and Bermuda and famous encounters such as the Battle of Trafalgar. Its ships brought munitions, supplies, and soldiers to territories across the British Empire including India and Bengal.

Through powerful athletic high-energy dance, Ghost Ships will take an unflinching look at the impact Chatham Dockyard and its ships have had on people’s lives, from local workers employed at the Dockyard to those living in communities around the world.

Ghost Ships will expose lesser-known stories and characters from the Dockyard’s history. These include Britain’s involvement in slavery and the leading figures who passed through the Dockyard – Olaudah Equiano and John Newton – who played a significant role in Abolition; the 20 women in the 1700s and 1800s who assumed men’s clothing to work at the Dockyard and in the Navy, including the first Black female sailor to serve in the Navy, and the impact the Dockyard’s ships have had on local immigration.

Ghost Ships has been inspired by and will include newly uncovered research and local oral histories from older members of Medway’s South Asian communities, Medway African and Caribbean Association, and from those working at the former Royal Dockyard during its final days.

Ghost Ships is being created by a collaborative creative team led by Icon Theatre’s Artistic Director Nancy Hirst with choreography from ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company led by its Associate Artistic Director Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe, and Associate Choreography by Amina Khayyam, Artistic Director of Amina Khayyam Dance Company.

Nancy Hirst, Artistic Director at Icon Theatre said: “Icon creates theatre that tells unheard local stories with national significance; 2024 marks 40 years since the closure of Chatham’s former Royal Dockyard and it therefore seemed the right time for us to honour and commemorate the site’s past, one that has shaped both local and national identity through its shipbuilding past and links to the British Empire. Much celebrated for its historical significance and the cultural heritage beacon it has become, it’s important not to forget the Dockyard’s shipbuilding and colonial legacy that still impacts communities in Medway and across the world today. Through the power of theatre, Hip Hop, Kathak and music we will explore and celebrate different cultures and the diverse communities that make our society what it is today.”

Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe, Associate Artistic Director at ZooNation: The Kate Prince Compay said: “We’ll be bringing ZooNation’s signature style of storytelling theatre, which is hugely influenced by Hip Hop music and dance, a genre originating as an artistic response to oppression and discrimination. So it feels very fitting to be acknowledging Hip Hop and art forms from Black Culture to explore themes of colonialism and migration and to commemorate the impact the British Empire has had. From the choreography, you should expect all the usual tricks, flips and athleticism of a ZooNation show alongside mass-movement and more detailed sections that will reflect more poignant moments.”

Amina Khayyam, Artistic Director of Amina Khayyam Dance Company said: “Ghost Ships provides a huge opportunity to look, explore and examine closer into one of the deepest and darkest moments of our colonial history. This saw the mistreatment of fellow humans on an industrial scale, while amassing fortune and wealth for a few. The legacy of which still haunts and impacts us daily. From exploring African slavery to the famines of Bengal, I want to use Kathak’s storytelling to contribute to the making of this work with integrity and sensitivity. Only when we know our history, can we make sense of the world around us today.”

Richard Morsley, Chief Executive at Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust said: “We feel honoured that this production is part of our Dockyard40 programme, a year-long programme commemorating 40 years since the Dockyard closure and celebrating its subsequent transformation. The Dockyard has always been central to Medway’s story and this collaboration provides an opportunity to tell this story differently and to engage audiences through a compelling new production”.

Ghost Ships is part of Medway Culture Fest 2024, a year-long programme of cultural activity celebrating Medway’s creativity and rich history. The programme marks the 40th anniversary of the Dockyard’s closure – a moment of national significance which sparked four decades of culture-led regeneration, positioning Medway as one of the most culturally ambitious areas in the country today. Medway Culture Fest 2024 will see national and local creatives, companies and heritage sites produce work which tells Medway’s story.

Ghostships is an Icon Theatre, ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company and Amina Khayyam Dance Company co-production, supported by The Historic Dockyard Chatham.

Icon Theatre is supported by Medway Council and using public funding from Arts Council England.

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