- December 9, 2019
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Stick Man is a modern children’s classic. It is the story of, well, a Stick Man who goes out for a jog and through a series of misadventures ends up far away from his family and home. His journey back is also filled with mishaps and calamity until an unlikely festive friend lends a hand and saves the day. Effectively it’s just a re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey, but more concise and with better jokes and rhymes.
Live it is no different. The story is told in full, as Donaldson originally wrote it, but it is interspersed with original songs and plenty of audience participation. Yes there is an underlying tweeness but it is a true delight that genuinely warms your heart.
In the book when Stick Man is swept upon the beach lasts two pages, but on stage it was at least 10 minutes and the highlight of the whole performance. This was down to the infuriately catchy song, which is still in my head now, and a wonderful piece of audience participation. And this is what makes Stick Man Live such a jubilant experience. We were told in full a story that we all knew, but it had been elongated with delightful songs and clever jokes that we were transported to a world not too dissimilar to our own, but full of amphomorphic dogs, fish, and swans and, um, a stick.
The Stick Man live show is an exercise in minimalism. The set just consisted of a raised platform, a couple of tables filled with various instruments and foley devices, a few choice props and clever lighting. But through these few elements we were transported from a park, to a river, to the seaside, to winter woodland and finally back to the family tree all in about an hour. But now we come to the real stars of the show. The cast. Jamie Coles played Stick Man, with Georgina Duncan playing everyone else and utility player Paddy Duff joining in where needed whilst playing live instruments and percussion. And it is here that the show really soared. Cole might have been the star, but Duncan and Duff were the lynchpins. If their delivery, and casting, had been off the show would have felt flat, but due to their unending energy they keep the story going at a delightful breakneck pace.
At its heart Stick Man is a panto. But don’t worry; this isn’t the usual festive dirty word. Yes there is plenty of audience participation, plenty of “He’s behind you!!!” and all that usually nausea inducing stuff, but that sinking feeling of “How long is left?” was missing as were cynical cries from small children exclaiming “I can see the walls move” and “Isn’t that my teacher in a dress?”.
Stick Man is a delightful romp for all the family, and previous knowledge of the story is not needed but it certainly doesn’t hurt. All that was missing was a Gruffalo cameo/Easter egg that all Donaldson/Scheffler books have. Overall it was a delightful performance that swept you away whilst delivering an early Christmas present.
Theatre Royal Brighton