Stick Man, Leicester Square Theatre, London (4/5)


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The Independent Culture

Pitiable Stick Man, like Griffin Dunne’s lost, stick-thin yuppie in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours or Jonathan Pryce’s persecuted bureaucrat in Terry Gillian’s Brazil, finds himself caught up in events beyond his control, carried from one sticky moment to the next. As Nicolas Cage rightly maintained in Raising Arizona, "Sometimes it's a hard place for small things."

Thankfully, Scamp Theatre’s Stick Man isn’t a dystopian nightmare, but a zesty and delightful 55-minute adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s charming children’s book. Most parents with children under five (I’ve got two) will be very familiar with the duo’s beautifully illustrated work: The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, The Smartest Giant in Town and the lovely Tiddler. Although these works aren’t quite as wildly inventive, funny and, frankly, sinister as Mini Grey’s books (see Traction Man, Biscuit Bear and Three by the Sea), Donaldson and Scheffler’s fables are full of warmth, humanity and ingenious rhythms and repetitions.

Stick Man (played by Mark Kane, a gifted physical comedian) is a solid family man who lives a “happy” and “healthy” life in his tree with his three children. But, of course, the outside world is destined to intrude. Doesn’t it always? On his daily jog, Stick Man is snatched by a dog (played by perky Peta Dennis, who also plays a karate chopping girl, a swan and a braying woman on the beach), and his Hitchcockian (Scamp, cheekily, provide a snippet of the Vertigo soundtrack towards the end) odyssey begins. The helpless Stick Man keeps on claiming that “I’m Stick man, I’m Stick Man, I’M STICK MAN, that’s me...” But that doesn’t prevent him from being thrown in the river, used as a bat on the beach and gathered. for firewood. “I feel used and abused,” he wails. His identity lost like Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Sally Cookson’s production nimbly conveys the little fellow’s woes with invention and wit, helped by some jaunty musicianship from Brian Hargreaves (who also plays a raucous Santa Claus, sounding suspiciously like Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashheart in Blackadder), who makes deft use of a ukulele, banjo, saxophone, the drums and chimes. And there’s plenty of audience participation, the cast entering the audience at one point for a chase; Stick Man ending up on one of the mummy’s laps; “the best seat in the house,” Kane saucily claims. It is panto season, after all, and Stick Man is a clever, compelling Christmas treat.