It’s a Thursday afternoon, and I’m sat comfortably in the stalls of Brighton Theatre Royal amongst an absolute army of five-year-olds. The only other occasion I can think of when so many insanely excited under-tens are gathered in one room is before they break up from school. This particular mob of them giggles, wails and sneezes its way through an hour-long stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s Stick Man. You know the one, its by the writing and illustration team behind The Gruffalo and was recently adapted into a charmingly animated Christmas film. During the finale, when Stick Man is reunited with his Stick Lady Love, I genuinely started tearing up.
A seasonal delight
Part of me wants to blame the free glass of wine which came with my press ticket, a cool level machismo relief that the children’s show I had sat through was finished, or even grief that my life choices had somehow led me to this situation, but no. I was tearing up because I was moved. Somehow, amid the fidgeting and faffing and frequent toilet trips that characterised their audience, the three strong cast of this production had created something lovely. It’s cosy, Christmassy and desperately sweet, but manages to hold your attention throughout the many misadventures of its twiggy protagonist
So engaged was the auditorium full of littles that when Stick Man tragically asked them whether or not he’d “been through enough,” they delightedly and rather wickedly shouted back “no.” Its worth mentioning that by this point Stick Man had already been mauled by a dog, dropped into a river, built into a nest and used as a bat during a beach ball game which saw the kids in the audience playing keepie-uppie. He had definitely been through enough.
The extent of his struggles are so extreme they inspire a bluesy ballad in the snow, very much improved by the excellence of its live saxophone accompaniment. The music generally was wonderful, as likely to get your son or daughter into percussion as theatre, and the original text of the book is woven smoothly into the lyrics.
Stick Man wont change any lives or challenge any norms or ever even manage to shut its audience up enough to hear a pin drop, as they say, but it will make you smile. As it started, a sea of weary parents wrestled their children into what must a record breaking number of booster seats. As it ended, they all left smiling, often bemused at what had managed to make that happen. Like a warm hug or mulled wine and a rom-com, it really is a seasonal delight.