Polka has been producing theatre for young audiences since 1979. When you watch their current production of Stuart Little you can tell: there are scenes where the children in the audience feel involved in the plight of the young mouse and his family; unfortunately though, Polka may have taken their eye off the ball slightly as there are other scenes which would leave the most patient of children bored and restless.
E.B White's classic books have been adapted into two successful films and one recent cartoon. Stuart lives in New York with a human family and their cat, Snowbell. This crafty feline has to learn to love the mouse - which is not going to be easy as he has his social standing in the neighbourhood to consider, and wants to be a cool cat. The mouse embarks on a variety of journeys of self discovery in this sweet natured production.
Stuart is bought to life effortlessly by Stewart Carins. So much so that you forget this animal is a puppet. The children at the matinee I saw loved watching their favourite mouse this side of Mickey brush his teeth and drive his car. The warmth of White's books is perfectly highlighted in Cairns' finely judged turn.
But the problem here is that when the mouse is not around and we focus on the family, children start to glaze over finding the contents of their sweet bags much more interesting. The musical numbers are merely average and the audience seem keen to clap along but are not really invited to do so until the end. Some more audience participation would really move the narrative along a little as at times this piece feels slightly distant.
Annie Wood's direction is patchy. When the mouse is on stage, things tick over nicely. But an ill judged wedding scene at the end seems tacked on and the pace is not really kept up after the interval.
This production has its heart in the right place and children will love Cairns as Little. But to keep the little ones entertained, some more creative scenes wouldn’t go a miss. The Bolton Octagon got this balance right with their adaptation of The Twits. They tweaked the material including adding some aerial scenes. A nice little production. But could have been so much better.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Lowry, Salford).