Stick Man – Review – St George’s Hall, Bradford
By Matt Callard, October 2019
I have a four-year-old by my side. He’s my barometer – a disciple of the foundation text, a devotee of the joyfully overlapping world and words of Julia Donaldson, the harshest critic in town of any unnecessary deviation or departure from the sacred copy. In moments of idle play, or in drifting pre-sleep mode he’s been known to quote verbatim entire works: The Gruffalo, A Squash and a Squeeze, Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book – and yes, Stick Man – the story of one stick’s desperate and unfortunate journey further and further away from his beloved ‘family tree’.
He’s picked up by a dog, played with by a girl, thrown into a river, left to freeze in the snow and plenty more. All the time Stick Man just wants to return home to his Stick Lady Love and his two stick babies. It’s looking bleak until a big guy in a red suit comes to the rescue.
If you’re reading the book, Stick Man will take you all of ten minutes. So the perennial question for the stage conversion is how to flesh it out without losing the attention of a very young and demanding core audience.
“Timing is critical”
The answer, for this Stick Man anyway, is to add songs, horseplay and a healthy dollop of panto into the mix and hope the Disciples of Donaldson forgive the deviations – and for most part of this one-act performance, they do.
Mostly, that’s down to three talented and engaging performers. Jamie Coles is Stick Man – carrying the spirit and soul of the central character (if not the costume) with aplomb. He carries a model Stick Man with him, becoming his voice and emotions as the character goes through his trials and tribulations. Georgina Duncan is his Stick Lady Love, all forlorn with fluttering eyelashes until she transforms into Stick Man’s tormentors – a dog who wants to play fetch, a girl with a penchant for Pooh sticks, a spot of puppetry for a swan in need of sticks for its nest.
Paddy Duff, in a hectic and demanding role, is sidekick, narrator and, most impressively, one-man band. During the 50-minute act he plays saxophone, keyboards, percussion, melodica and more whilst also joining in with the song and dance routines and knitting the narrative together. His timing is critical as he adds sound effects to the on-stage frolics – although quite why any human-to-human verbal interaction between the actors is done in exaggerated upper crust accents is a mystery, and it does eventually start to grate.
“All good fun”
The songs are simple singalongs which the kids seem to enjoy and the set pieces are good, including one neat underwater sequence with spinning lights and fish.
There’s a bit of audience participation as a beach ball is tossed into the seats and at one point Georgina Duncan’s dog chases Stick Man in-between the aisles. All good fun, although she does choose to sit and talk to the occasional audience member mid-chase which leaves the rest of us somewhat perplexed and straining our necks to see what’s happening.
There are a few good jokes that set the kids giggling (“Why is the beach wet? Because the seaweed.”) – but how on earth they miss the chance to insert the greatest joke of all time I’ll never know (“What’s brown and sticky? A stick.”)
Afterwards, following a satisfying finale, my four-year-old simply states that the show was ‘brilliant’ – so enough of my ramblings, right there is the only recommendation you need.