Theatre Review: Stick Man, by Anna Morell


Should children’s theatre be good enough to please all ages? Anna Morell awards just three stars to Scamp Theatre’s adaptation of the hugely-loved children’s book – but her daughter loved it.

It’s a much-loved tale of will-he-won’t-he tension in the award-winning format of Axel Scheffler’s warm, dynamic pictures and Julia Donaldson’s classless, timeless rhyme. But Scamp Theatre’s adaptation of ‘Stick Manveers considerably from the spirit of the book, if not the bare… bones (sticks?) of the plot, and practically scat delivers the language as Donaldson’s rhymes are lost in linguistic padding.

Stick Man himself is a wild-eyed ragged lump of plastic. There’s something unnerving about him. He looks like the sunburnt cousin of the anthropomorphised Peperami sausage. Until you realise that he’s also (at the same time) the bloke in chino shorts and check shirt being terribly middle class. It’s like the man has a turd-shaped doppler familiar, and he’s really the spirit of the nuclear family made Cath Kidston dad.

His fellow actors are also deliberately terribly plummy, unless they are playing the park keeper or a dog. Then, they go full cockney, gals n geezers. Which throws an awkward class spanner into the lovely sense of Every-Family Donaldson creates in her book protagonists from the off.

The pacing is sketchy. The sets, costumes and props are incredibly inventive (they have to be – they’re made from next to nothing), but they lack almost every hallmark of Axel Scheffler’s wonderful drawings. It’s like a decent (but posh) Am Dram company improvised everything, having only ever heard the audio book. And added in an extra load of so-so songs.

There’s also what appears to be a has-been hipster band’s stash of instruments in the corner which are used to beef up the music track – melodica, ukulele, cymbals and saxophone. I kept expecting Dick Valentine from Electric Six to pop up. Especially when Stick Man ends up on the grate (yes I do want to know why you keep starting fires.) Although there’s no real sense of danger, and no high voltage ending. Santa turns up with a piece of rope that’s supposed to be a sleigh, and off they fly/tangle back to the Family Tree. (Is that it?!) And that’s it.

This show has been doing the rounds for a while now. It is a departure for children’s book interpretations. And it does work on its own terms. But those expecting an augmented version of the book will be disappointed. It lacks the rhythms, visuals, and ultimately, the magic of the original.

The verdict from my four year-old, however? Belly laughter, screamed responses at the interactive bits, and a skipping-with-delight-out-of-the-theatre “good”. Perhaps, because this, if given a stick, is how her and her peers would interpret the story – with a stage full of nothing, a head full of imagination and a heart full of delight.

‘Stick Man’ plays at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre on Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 July. It transfers to London’s Leicester Square Theatre from 7 November to 6 January.

Picture credit: Steve Ullathorne for Scamp Theatre.