Stick Man

Nov 27 2015 | By More

★★★★☆   Cleverly engaging

Paradiso Spiegeltent: Thurs 26 Nov – Tue 29 Dec 2015
Review by Thom Dibdin

There’s a verve and vim to the latest production of Stick Man, the adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture storybook at the Paradiso Spiegeltent in St Andrew Square until the New Year.

This has not always been the case for the different casts who have taken on Scamp Theatre’s adaptation, which made its exuberant, imaginative first Scottish appearance at the fringe in 2010.

Claire Dargo, Sean Kane and Gordon Cooper in Stickman. Photo Peter Dibdin

Claire Dargo, Sean Kane and Gordon Cooper in Stickman. Photo Peter Dibdin

This particular cast, however, are right in there from the outset, getting the laughter rolling even before they have launched into Donaldson’s tale of the luckless Stick Man who lives in the family tree with his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three.

It helps that Sean Kane makes a great Stick Man, embodying the anatomically correct (in terms of Scheffler’s pictures of him) stick-sized puppet figure he carries at all times. His physique is the right side of lanky and he’s all energy and enthusiasm as Stick Man sets out on his daily jog.

Claire Dargo equally looks the part as the Stick Lady Love. And bristles with attention and energy as, with a succession of quick costume changes, she steps into a whole variety of different roles depicting the various animals and humans who mistake Stick Man for a plain old stick and take him further and further away from his planned daily routine.

Whether it is the bouncy dog playing fetch with Stick Man and hoofing off into the audience chased by the third company member Gordon Cooper as the Parkie; the girl with Karate Kid moves who takes him for a Pooh-stick; an elegant Swan who uses him as a twig for her nest; or a braying lady by the seaside, Dargo is right on the money.

magically twitching shoals of fish

Sticklers for exactitude might be slightly perturbed as the script augments and moves Donaldson’s original story on a little. The family tree is revealed to be a sycamore. Which, looking back at the book, is never said but is exactly what Scheffler depicted.

And when Stick Man floats out to sea, Dargo and Cooper turn an episode treated in a rhyming couplet into an underwater adventure with magically twitching shoals of fish.

Gordon Cooper, Sean Kane and Claire Dargo in Stickman. Photo Peter Dibdin

Gordon Cooper, Sean Kane and Claire Dargo in Stickman. Photo Peter Dibdin

The course of the story might not follow exactly, but the original lines are all present and correct. Complete with narrative voice exhorting Stick Man to beware of the next hidden danger, inventively represented by Cooper intoning the warning in sonorous tones through a loudhailer.

And Stick Man’s repetitive call to be treated for who he is, not what he appears to be – “I’m stick man, I’m Stick Man, I’m STICK MAN! That’s Me!” – is exactly right. A call for recognition which echoes Patrick McGoohan’s “I am not a number – I am a free man” in The Prisoner.

Those who read Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s many rhyming picture storybooks have a strong sense of ownership towards them and the characters. From the Gruffalo via Room on the Broom to this summer’s new The Scarecrow’s Wedding, they are vividly created both on page and in the imaginations of those who read and hear the stories.

Aside from its engagement and sense of fun, this production’s natural Scottish accent really adds to this sense of ownership, helping give the pages life.

Occasionally just a little too much life, perhaps. When Stick Man is in his darkest hour of jeopardy, dreaming of his Stick Lady Love and the family tree, his sense of loss and dislocation from his family is just a shade overemphasised for some of the young.

What this never does as an adaptation is force a new reading on the book. The two can exist side-by-side. The brilliance of Sean Kane, Claire Dargo and Gordon Cooper is that this one is as vivid as the original.

Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
Paradiso Spiegeltent, Edinburgh’s Christmas, St Andrew Square
Thursday 20 November – Tuesday 29 December 2015
Daily, not Mon 11am; Fri-Sun: 1.15pm; Sat/Sun: 3pm.

Tickets and details: Stick Man Live.

NB: All residents with an EH postcode can get a 20% discount on all Edinburgh’s Christmas tickets.


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