Andy Manley is undoubtedly one of the treasures of Scotland’s current theatrical landscape, all the more so given his seemingly innate (but presumably hard-learned) skill in holding the attention of the youngest, most restless of audiences. His open, child-like manner is authentic and entrancing; he’s a genuine reminder of silent-screen comedy and expression, especially in this largely wordless, but nevertheless expressive, work co-created with director Ian Cameron and designer Katherina Radev.
Manley is spot-on with his embodiment of a small child.
Stick By Me is promoted as being a new show “about friendship and play, and the importance of treasuring little things”. While this is certainly true, it is saved from being a diabetic peril by deeper resonances. Having successfully explored the limits of his playground, for example, an adult voice says “No!” every time Manley tries to step beyond the stage. Stick By Me is also a play about learning to understand boundaries and rules, not least those arbitrarily imposed on us by those in authority. While food for thought for most of us, that’s everyday life for any young child.
Although Manley’s character isn’t allowed to leave the stage, he is free to look inside a large cardboard box which, to his initial puzzlement, contains nothing more than a single ice-lolly stick – the ultimate Amazon mis-match of packaging. This stick quickly becomes an imaginary friend, and Manley is spot-on with his embodiment of a small child matching postures and actions with the object of their affections. This again resonates well with the show’s intended audience; on the day of this review, the children were pleased to be given a lolly-stick of their own after the show.
Yes, there is some broad sticky-related comedy early on – when we first see Manley, for example, his legs are taped to his chair – but that’s as much about breaking the ice as anything else. Supported by Will Calderbank’s charming musical soundscape, Craig Fleming’s unfussy lighting and Christine Devaney’s adept choreography, Manley and the team at Red Bridge Arts offers us an authentic childlike view of the world – full of excitement, energy and emphatic delight.