UPDATE: STICK MAN WILL BE LIVE AT LEICESTER SQUARE THEATRE, LONDON, UNTIL 26 JANUARY 2020
A couple of years back, our little family returned to see Stick Man Live at the Leicester Square Theatre, London. For the third year in a row. I asked myself, what was it about Stick Man that made us go back to see it, year after year?
The production, originally by Scamp Theatre and Watford Palace Theatre, is based on Julia Donaldson’s book (illustrated by Axel Scheffler). Anyone with small children will be familiar with the colourful, idiosyncratic characters sketched out through this duo’s words and pictures. The Gruffalo and his child, the witch looking for Room on the Broom, and Stick Man are already mesmerising characters, perfect for visual performance.
Not only are these characters well-suited to the stage, they’ve also been made into compelling films for the small screen by Magic Light Pictures. And for a stage show, all that’s needed to transform Stick Man is a boost of physical theatre, some zingy props and a strong cast. Sally Cookson’s production had these in abundance.
Oh, and songs. Benji Bower’s perky, exuberant score burrowed its earwormy way into our household from the first time we went to see the performance back in 2013. I was glad that it remained largely unchanged for the three years we went to see the show.
So – what else makes Stick Man a winner, both on stage and on screen?
A graceful narrative arc
Stick Man – who usually ‘lives in the family tree, with his stick lady love, and his children 1 – 2 – 3’, becomes separated from his loved ones. He has to travel back home, through stick-life threatening danger, so that he can wake up with the children on Christmas morning. Travelling through adventures and then returning to the comfort of home is a familiar trope, seen in Homer’s Odyssey, The Chronicles of Narnia, and TV’s Mr Benn. It’s perfect for family viewing.
Peril and fear
During his journey to reach his family, Stick Man is gnawed by a dog, attacked by a karate-chopping girl and pecked at by a swan, all of which had my three-year-old daughter covering her mouth in horror. Those sequences didn’t last very long, though, so she didn’t stay scared for long.
To parents of small children: need I say more? Sticks are eternal sources of fascination and fun to the under-7s. Until our builders came and did a clear-up job in our front garden, we had a pile of twigs that was big enough to start a bonfire. All gathered from local parks, and kept to give as parting gifts to friends when playdates came to an end. Sticks make great swords, parent-prodders and mud pie-stirrers. A story based entirely around the adventures of a stick? Heaven.
A mid-life crisis
For the parents, this one. To me, it wasn’t entirely clear exactly how and why Stick Man became separated from his family. Was he dragged away, or did he just leave? In the stage show, Richard Kiess guided the audience through his stick-based existential crisis, where his tribulations led Stick Man to assert his own (stick)-person hood: ‘I’m a STICK MAN, not a bat!’
After all this, he returned home. Which is fine for Mr Stick, but while he was off in pursuit of self-discovery, poor old Mrs Stick was stuck at home, the ‘lonely’ custodian of three stick kids. If any real-life Mrs Sticks find this all a little too uncomfortably close to home, the powerful female presence in the stage show of Rachel Winters, who did an amazing job of playing a dog, a karate-chopping girl and a female holidaymaker, should help redress the balance. It’s not only the Stick Men who have all the action.
You can’t beat an appearance from the bearded one to add a special festive note to a show. Santa came into the story at the end, to help save the day. Some of the antics at Leicester Square Theatre were pure Christmas pantomime, too, especially the dog/Stick chase through the audience. My son, who had just turned six when we saw the performance, was perhaps heading towards the upper age limit for Stick Man (its target is children over three), but Santa’s guest slot at the end sold it to him.
Stick Man review
Here’s what I wrote in my original review of Stick Man at Leicester Square Theatre:
Austin and Mum said:
Scheffler and Donaldson’s tales usually follow a loose formula. The protagonist leaves – or gets separated from – their familiar environment (or clothes, in the case of the Smartest Giant), and voyages through an unfamiliar landscape. Mistaken identity brings peril and the threat of the hero being lost forever. They learn something new about themselves and the world around them; then they return to the safety of home.
The stage production of Stick Man didn’t stray from the formula. Thankfully, with the help of a seasonal special guest, Stick Man was able to return to his wife and three children, who were waiting in the Family Tree on Christmas Eve. Natural order was restored.
Although the production was simple enough for a very young audience (three years old and over), the catchy songs, striking set and dramatic energy of the actors would make a repeat visit pleasurable for adults as well as children.
Gwen and Dad said:
After twelve months of having the signature tune from the show sung at us periodically, Gwen and I finally got to see what all the fuss was about for ourselves.
What we saw was an excellent piece of children’s theatre replete with a fabulously physical cast, inventive use of props, just the right level of audience interaction to keep the little ones fully involved, live music, and of course a ridiculously catchy score.
As the lights went up I noticed quite a few adults wiping away a tear, clearly relieved that *spoiler alert* Stick Man’s lady love hadn’t started a new life with a sheet of melamine plywood in his extended absence.
I’d recommend it, and presumably so would Gwen given that she could be heard belting out the tune from the loo after the performance had finished.
Have you seen Stick Man? Would you go back again?
The team behind Stick Man gave us family tickets for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.
Stick Man has also been adapted into an animated film. The all-star cast includes Martin Freeman (Stick Man), Hugh Bonneville (Santa), Jennifer Saunders (The Narrator), Russell Tovey, Rob Brydon and Sally Hawkins.
Enjoyed Stick Man? Don’t forget the good old Panto. Check out our guide to London Pantomimes here.
You might also like to read our review of Sadler’s Wells The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre, London.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.