At last – as we pull free of a second national lockdown – theatres are brushing off the cobwebs of an empty year gone by and once again becoming a place of escapism, but not just for adults. The Rose Theatre, in Kingston, is celebrating the end of 2020 with a fantastic line-up of entertainment. Having escaped financial hardship, following the announcement last year that their funding had been cut, the theatre seems to have also made it through the COVID drought, opening with a children’s show that is set to delight audiences aged three and up – just in time for Christmas!
Stick Man, based on the children’s book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, is a live stage adaptation which returns to the Rose Theatre following a hugely popular original run. As Stick Man explores and ventures away from his home, the Family Tree, he encounters people and animals that mistreat him, not understanding that he isn’t a stick he’s a Stick Man! Taken further and further away from home, Stick Man worries if he will ever make it back to “his Stick Lady Love and his stick children, one, two three”.
There is immediately a childish energy to the production, matching that of the audience who is eager to be entertained (there is nothing like an audience of chatty toddlers to make you feel less self-conscious about being a seat wriggler). Cries of excitement and squeaky laughs fill the stalls, as the music kicks in with an upbeat, bouncing melody. Original songs with catchy lyrics prove to be far more entertaining than the usual mind-numbing music introduced by children’s tv shows, and very funny too.
Though the performers themselves act all the characters (and most of the instruments), they also make use of puppets to add a visual reference on the stage – especially helpful with children as young as three. This makes for some excellent moments of physical theatre; as Stick Man is thrown around by a child, or licked by a dog, the actor portraying him maintains the physical responses even though he is in a different area of the stage.
The lighting and stage design are perfectly suited to maintain the illusion of a journey. From the gentleness of the Family Tree, down the river, under the water, in the sand and through the snowstorm, the design, by Katie Sykes, gives a clear representation of each scene, creating not just a setting but an atmosphere – without the need for lavish theatrics.
The story arch is an interesting and gripping one for this age group, charging along at a great pace. There is lots of interactivity; children are encouraged to join in and answer the performers, and, at one point, there is even a game of ‘invisi-ball’. Children are delighted with the surprise appearance of Santa, and parents enjoy the witty word play of the text, whilst sipping their white wine spritzer.
In saying that, my only concern with Stick Man can probably be said about most children’s entertainment. Whilst this production is not the worst offender, it would be remiss to sidestep patriarchal stereotypes of the stick family – including a female stick whose name is only a description of her role within the male sticks life – which, by now, really must be clear to all as a story structure that should be left in the past. It’s not PC culture to teach children about a more varied world – it’s just life and the sooner that starts to change the better.
Stick Man is playing at the Rose Theatre until 3rd January 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Rose Theatre website.