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Shaun's Big Show (tour – Stevenage)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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On one side of me was a little girl of pre-school age. On the other was a lad who looked as though he was just about to start secondary school. Both had attendant adults. Both were completely enthralled by what was happening on-stage, the girl standing up and gripping on to the back of the seat in front of her, as though trying to involve herself even more in the show. The boy's attention hardly faltered. The grown-ups in the audience seemed to be equally enthralled.

This, of course, is Shaun’s Big Show, correctly billed as a music and dance extravaganza for all the family. It is based on a successful children’s television series, but the stage version works in its own right, making plasticine thoroughly plastic with brilliant choreography by Bill Deamer and clever designs by Susie Caulcutt. The adaptation is by David Wood, who uses sounds to replace words; Simon Townley has provided a musical accompaniment to the action which references a bewildering succession of classical, traditional and popular music.

Deamer’s choreography matches this. The precision-toed cast step nimbly from hornpipes to Irish dance, from classical ballet to tap-dancing, taking in the occasional mazurka, schottische, ländler, ballroom- or ice-dance contest and can-can number on the way. Not to mention films such as Singing in the Rain. There’s an eleven-strong cast to perform all this with Christopher Unwin’s farmer emulating Valentin le Déossé in his agility. Scott Matthews is Bitzer, the sheepdog trying to keep sheep. Pigs, a ferocious bull (cue the toreador’s aria from Carmen) and his human master in some sort of order.

The sheep are a neatly differentiated flock, from a clinically-obese ewe who still manages the splits with aplomb – not that easy in a thickly-padded costume – to our hero himself (Mark Williamson). Ruby Mills, Marianne Phillips and Michael John bleat in support. The three very naughty pigs are Sarah Saxby, Ryan Campbell Birch and Benjamin Ibbott; their disco sequence with the farmer’s purloined gramophone is great fun. Michelle Campbell and Robyn Ford complete the cast.

Both the costumes themselves and the masks are very good. I wondered if the cast would doff the headpieces at the curtain-calls, but I think that retaining them kept the sense of magic alive. What keeps the adults in the audience enthralled is, I suspect, catching at the musical and choreographic hommages as they spark into and out of the action. There should, perhaps, be a competition to see how many you can catch – no cheating allowed! Quite frankly, if you’re looking for the ideal introduction to dance and theatre for very young children, this is it.


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