REVIEW: STIG OF THE DUMP (Arts Theatre) ★★★★

page3-1013-fullClive King’s novel, Stig of the Dump, was first published in the UK in 1963. Over fifty years later, the story remains a favourite with young readers. London Contemporary Theatre brings their production of Stig of the Dump to the Arts Theatre following a successful UK tour. The tale has been adapted by Olivier Award winning playwright Mike Kenny and directed by Olivier Award nominated Luke Sheppard.

For those unfamiliar with the story, our hero Barney is staying with his grandparents on the chalk downs of southern England with his annoying sister Lou. Seeking adventure, and against his Grandmother’s advice, Barney explores an old chalk pit, falls over the edge and tumbles through the roof of a hidden den. Inside, he comes face to face with Stig, a caveman, with shaggy black hair and bright black eyes who has made a home out of the rubbish dumped in the pit.

Barney and Stig become firm friends, communicating without language. That is no barrier to their friendship and adventures. Stig becomes Barney’s secret friend for the summer, but no one believes that Stig is real, however much Barney tries to convince them.

The high energy cast of four engage with the audience even before the show begins, handing out pictures and colouring pencils, encouraging children to make paper planes and throw their work onto the stage to be displayed on Grandma’s washing line. The multi-talented performers sing, play instruments, dance, act, and manipulate puppets; they all have a great manner with the young audience and draw us into the story.

Barney is played by William Pennington, who embraces the eight year old character with enthusiasm, bounding around the stage between Stig’s den and his grandparents’ house. His sister Lou (Chandni Mistry) is at first dismissive of Barney’s new friend but slowly comes to see the truth. Katy Ashworth, of CBeebies fame, plays Grandma with a twinkle in her eye and Sam Gannon is Grandad as well as voicing Stig. Stig himself is a wonderful puppet, bouncing around the stage, skilfully manipulated by Gannon and Ashworth. The set is a ramshackle collection of discarded household items that reveal the props needed to tell the story.

Aimed at children over four, this is a fast-paced 55 minute show full of storytelling, songs, movement and puppetry. This charming story has stood the test of time and is well presented here for young children of today. Be prepared to join in with the singing and dancing with Stig and his friends.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans

STIG OF THE DUMP plays at the Arts Theatre until 26 August 2016