‘The production has the right balance of everyday humour, magic and mystery. A lovely version of a children’s classic, highly recommended for families to see.’
There are occasions when the stars align to make a perfect piece of pub theatre. STIG OF THE DUMP at the Tabard Theatre is one of them. Children’s theatre can be notoriously hard to do well, yet this revival makes it seem effortless. Directed by Russell Labey and associate director Matthew Fraser Holland, the production has good form. It was first produced at the Tabard ten years ago, again directed by Labey.
Based on Clive King’s 1963 novel, the story follows eight year old Barney’s discovery of Stig, a caveman who resides in a chalk pit, which is now a dumping ground for rubbish, near Barney’s grandmother’s house. This rather surreal scenario – and thankfully the scientific logistics of this are never attempted to be explained – also has many of the hallmarks of a classic children’s story. There’s the lonely outsider child finding a kindred spirit; there’s the bullies who are outwitted; there’s a sometimes strained sibling relationship. And of course no one believes Barney about Stig, and the story wouldn’t be much fun if they did.
It also has all the innocent charm of post-war children’s stories, where kids were seemingly allowed to roam all over the place so long as they were back in time for tea. The production is not afraid to embrace period detail, for example Barney’s tank top and short trousers. But it also has contemporary references, with Barney’s sister Lou (a great performance by Alexandra Brailsford) singing songs from The Greatest Showman and the local bullies being reimagined as contemporary middle-class kids pretending, and failing abysmally, to be part of contemporary gangster culture.
It is well paced. At just over an hour and quarter, with an interval, the children (and adults) remain engaged. The production values are high. Frequently reviewing in pub theatres you don’t always have high expectations for the set. But, and not for the first time in the last twelve months, there is a stunning set at the Tabard (Max Dorey’s design for Tryst was also exceptional). Based on Jason Denvir’s designs for the original production, we are in a chalk pit, with an eclectic range of dumped everyday objects scattered all around. The warren of tunnels are also fascinating to the children in the audience, and several try to explore them in the break.
The cast are fantastic. Lewis Meagor is brilliant as the inquisitive Barney, whose journey and friendship with Stig drives the piece. But it is Stig himself which is of course the key role. With dialogue largely limited to grunts, Julian Bailey-Jones is superb at capturing Stig’s simultaneous oafishness and wide-eyed wonder. My children were not the only ones too shy to pose for a selfie with him at the end, despite the cast and crew’s patience. They took some convincing afterwards that Bailey-Jones was not a caveman roaming the streets of Chiswick.
The production has the right balance of everyday humour, magic and mystery. A lovely version of a children’s classic, highly recommended for families to see.
STIG OF THE DUMP
Adapted by Richard Williams based on the novel by Clive King and directed Russell Labey
Produced by Sightline Theatres Limited
Tabard Theatre, Chiswick, 6 December 2018 – 6 January 2019
Reviewer Andy Curtis is a playwright who regularly has plays performed in London fringe theatre.