STICK MAN Leicester Square Theatre, WC2
“I wanna watch a movie” grumped a small voice behind me. Firm came the reply “We’re not going to watch a movie. This is a theatre. It’s exciting. It’s your first time”. Nursery teachers, grannies, mums and the occasional daddy dragooned their charges onto booster cushions in a sussurration of anxious excitement. It is two years since I was charmed by Scamp Theatre’s rendering of Julia Donaldson’s book, and it’s fresh in from a long tour for Christmas. So I dropped into an early matinee off Leicester Square – unaccustomedly louche for the church-hall playgroup set, but thrilling as a first West End experience.
Of all the early-childhood (3+) theatre around, Sally Cookson’s production remains one of the most satisfying and layered. Deceptive simplicity, repetitive rhymes and Playschool larks relate a thrilling story. The current performers are Richard Kiess, Alex Tosh and Cassie Vallance (who does a virtuoso dog, swan, and river). Benji Bower’s music keeps small hearts beating and Kiess, satisfyingly twiggy in his tan jeans, carries the small model of Stick Man ,faithful to the Axel Scheffler illustration . It keeps being hijacked, and he winces convincingly when it is bitten, thrown, soaked, or used as a bat. The story is that he leaves his ladylove and children in the Family Tree and goes for a run, but a dog gets him, then a girl throws him in the river, a swan builds a nest with him, and he nearly ends up on the fire at Christmas until, by rescuing Santa with a well-judged prod, he earns a sleighride home.
You feel utter identification growing around you as he endlessly protests “I”m not a bat! I’m not a Pooh-stick! I’m Stick-Man, that’s me!” Small children understand. They are endlessly scooped up, carried, taken to places they resent and called by wrong nicknames. Stick-man expresses that healthy indignation. And he’s lost, and they know about that too – “Stick man is lonely, stick man is lost, stick man is frozen and covered in frost”. His children are missing him, and worried Daddy won’t be home for Christmas. So involvement rises, the little movie-buff behind me joining in the cries of “Wake up!” when our hero falls asleep in the grate, in imminent danger of conflagration. Like all the best children’s theatre, it will send them home to make their own shows under the table and behind the sofa. All they need is a stick.
Box Office: 08448 733433 | http://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com
wed-sat 1030 am, plus Sat-sun 2 pm.