Review: Stig of the Dump at South Hill Park

fourstars

Sam Gannon takes charge of fantastic puppet Stig

Sam Gannon takes charge of fantastic puppet Stig

Whatever I chose to write in the next 300 or so words, really doesn’t matter at all because it was the wonderful reaction of the youngest audience members which gave the best review for Stig of the Dump.

Standing out of their chairs, clapping their hands, singing at the tops of their voices, and cheering for Stig like he was a rock star, the children gave London Contemporary Theatre’s new production a resounding thumbs up.

The classic 1963 children’s story, written by Clive King, has been adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny, and it is a charming production, full of plenty to make little eyes grow wide.

When 8-year-old Barney (William Pennington) goes to stay with his Grandma (Julia Cave) and Grandad (Sam Gannon), along with his sister Lou (Chandni Mistry), he sets about exploring the local area and before he knows it he’s fallen down a chalk pit, gone through the roof of a den, and discovered Stig. Stig is a caveman who has made his dwelling out of rubbish and as the two figure out ways to communicate, a firm friendship is born.

Barney (William Pennington) tells sister Lou (Chandni Mistry) a story

Barney (William Pennington) tells sister Lou (Chandni Mistry) a story

There were pops of fire, shadowy dances and physical theatre which make this a visual treat, but there was also a fantastic level of interactivity, with children (and the adults) invited to join in with catchy songs and simple dance routines. The young audience was also invited to colour in pictures during the interval, which were then strung up on stage to decorate Stig’s cave for the second half. A charming idea, which shows real thought for the audience.

Instruments were also played live on stage and the cast were warm and friendly, creating a welcoming space, ideal for children making their first visit to the theatre. Chandni Mistry as sister Lou was loud, and silly and fun, sparring nicely with Barney, who also doubles as narrator.  William Pennington as Barney, ran and leapt across the stage, full of youthful energy and always with a smile, and although there is a hint of ‘children’s presenter’ to the cast, it’s not a bad thing, with young audience members easily warming to the figures on stage.

And then of course there is Stig. An enchanting puppet creation, controlled by two cast members turned puppet masters who make him leap from junk pile to junk pile, his limbs bending as he sits on different boxes. Voiced by Sam Gannon, who also played Grandad and a handful of other characters, Stig is also quite the accidental comedian, his animated shouts of ‘jellybaby’ and excited ‘wahoos’ made us chuckle from the stalls. Although Stig is brought to life fantastically by puppet maker Casey Jay Andrews, there were a few scenes where Sam stepped into the role and it did break the continuity. A human Stig just isn’t quite the same.

And it may be that the young, unwitting reviewers, standing out of their seats may have felt the same, as puppet Stig undoubtedly got the most love during the applause.

Grandma (Julia Cave) and Grandad (Sam Gannon)

Grandma (Julia Cave) and Grandad (Sam Gannon)

London Contemporary Theatre strives to bring classic theatre to new audiences, and Stig of the Dump is another triumph. At just shy of 90 minutes, including interval, it’s a nicely packaged treat for theatre newcomers, and to leave it to the words of one young theatre goer, overheard on the way to the interval, ‘Mum, this is brilliant!.”

Stig of the Dump by London Contemporary Theatre is at South Hill Park until Saturday and it is then continuing a UK tour through May and June. Visit www.stigofthedump.co.uk for more information. 

I was invited to review Stig of the Dump so my tickets were complimentary but all views are my own. 

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