"Read all about it!" called a voice from the audience of enthralled tots, many of whom had clearly read all about the adventures of Flat Stanley. The story-book character, devised by the American journalist Jeff Brown 42 years ago, has ballooned into a worldwide schools project. Now, Flat Stanley has been fleshed out into a stage version by the playwright Mike Kenny.
When a bulletin board falls on Stanley one night, he wakes to find himself as flat as a pancake. His family has to cope with a son who is "four feet tall, about a foot wide, and half an inch thick". Not even this interrupts the Lambchops' routine, however: eggs are fried for breakfast, visits are made to the park, and Mr Lambchop maintains his usual high standards of politeness and careful speech. "Hey, come and look!" calls Stanley's brother Arthur. "Hay is for horses, Arthur, not people," is Mr Lambchop's measured response.
Karen Tennent's simple but effective designs have the vivid feel of the pages of Scott Nash's picture-book. The settings are realised with minimal fuss. The carrot-haired cardboard puppet is cleverly worked by Stewart Cairns, who acts both as "round" Stanley (before he's squashed) and as "flat" Stanley's shadow. The latter's escapades - whizzing under doors, slipping down grates, framing an art thief and being flown as a kite by his brother - are beautifully achieved by his puppetmaster. The chapters unfold with an old-fashioned though rather sexist charm; in the Lambchop household, Mother seems to be perpetually in the kitchen while Father reads the newspaper.
"I'll be with you in a jiffy," takes on a new meaning when Mr and Mrs Lambchop pop Stanley into a padded envelope and post him off on holiday. Here is the link with the schools project in which children in 50 countries have created and despatched their own Flat Stanley dolls.
I do wish, however, that Flat Stanley could have made its first stage appearance not with American accents, but in a Yorkshire dialect. The picture robbery could have been set in Leeds City Art Gallery, and the kite episode (a lovely moment) in Roundhay Park.
But when the cast of four make such a splendid job of the various roles; when Gail McIntyre's production is so delightfully subtle; and when Julian Ronnie's a cappella score is so expertly delivered, no one - least of all the innovative Polka Theatre - should be left feeling flat.
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