Sunday matinée performances seem highly attractive for a family audience, if the packed house for the première of the stage adaptation of Stick Man, from the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is a yardstick. It's produced by Scamp Theatre, directed by Sally Cookson and designed by Katie Sykes.
Judging by the near-perfect recall of the story so far slipped in at the half-way stage, even very young children are completely engrossed, accepting the conventions of of the performance with absolute understanding. The staging is deceptively simple with Benji Bower's off-stage recorded musical accompaniment supplemented by an on-stage obbligato, played mainly by Brian Hargreaves.
Mark Kane is the human embodiment of Stick Man, with a rod puppet as his alter ego; puppets also stand in for "his stick lady love and their stick children three". Emily Pollett takes on the boisterous dog and the swan searching for food for her cygnets among other creatures whom Stick Man encounters on his journeys.
The different locations for these wanderings – thick woods, sunlit beaches, river banks – are presented very simply through the use of imagination-stimulating props. Black umbrellas stand in for wind-swept waves, white ones for a wintry snow storm. Bright beach rings and balls are playfully batted around the beach scene.
Scamp have a reputation for high-quality children's shows – We're Going on a Bear Hunt and Aesop's Fables among them. Parents seeking an alternative to the traditional pantomime through which to introduce children to the magic of theatre – especially if the children already know the book itself – could do far worse than choose this show. It has the merit, quite apart from the staging itself, of knowing when a show's length is just long enough.