This was a very fitting title for the last show I will be covering before Christmas. Next Friday, strikes permitting, I am going into hospital for a knee replacement, so one week on I will be Stick Man, probably Two Stick Man, Crutch Man, but we won’t go there, or even Dylan, the real name of the folk legend being Zimmerman.
This is a show aimed at 2-year-olds and over but I thoroughly enjoyed it as, after seeing lots of big productions and performances with profound, and not so profound, messages, this really got me back to basics. There were only four people involved, one of whom was my favourite BSL signer, and not a special effect in sight, unless you count paper fish on poles.
The cast; left to right Patrick Orkney, Luke Byeford and Georgia Jackson, complete with special effect fish!
Who would have thought in this day and age, youngsters would be able to use their imaginations and be transported to various situations using only the most basic of props. In fact, during one episode, there wasn’t even a prop, there was a game being played on an imaginary beach using an ‘invisiball’ as the participants didn’t have a real one. This nonexistent sphere was batted out into the auditorium, much to the delight of the audience, with theatregoers of all ages reaching out to catch it.
It made me feel great hope for a world seemingly going down the drain at a speed of knots. The kids were wrapt for the full 55 minutes, except, for some reason, a few moments half way through when there was burst of shuffling, crying and restlessness, but it soon passed, and I settled down again!
The cast on the Stick Family Tree.
The work on which the show is based is a book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and is an episodic affair with a series of set pieces. It begins when Stick Man, who has a wife and three children, obviously chips off the old block, sets off from home, his family tree – geddit? – one morning for his daily jog – no idea – and embarks on a succession of encounters, each heralded by a nameless character, payed by Patrick Orkney, who both acts and plays the music, using a loud hailer to tell our hero to beware of what was about to happen.
Stick Man and his alter ego Luke Byeford
Stick Man is a small prop of a tree limb shaped like a chap but has a human alter ego, played by Luke Byeford, when on its adventures. The first is with a dog, acted by Georgia Jackson, as are all his adversaries, not just any dog, but one which raps, possibly Snoop Doggy Dogg then. Luke Byeford acts out the responses triggered when each part of the twig is touched by the dog. Obviously the place was in uproar when the dog was pawing the back side of the stick and he was rubbing his bum.
Through the piece he is used by a girl to play Pooh Sticks, carried off by a swan, set adrift in the sea, used as a flagpole on a sand castle when he is washed up on a beach, which is also where he acts as a bat in a game of cricket using the aforementioned invisiball. As the days go on and winter sets in he is found and taken home to be put on the fire, but fear ye not, it is in the very fireplace where Santa Claus gets stuck up the chimney. Stick Man pokes around to clear the soot and Santa is saved. In return, you guessed it, the big man lets him and Georgina Jackson, who is now a reindeer, help him deliver the rest of the prezzies. When the job is done, Santa takes him home to the family tree, with help from the audience of course, and all ends happily ever after. Ahhhhh.
Santa to the rescue with Stick Man and Reindeer.
The acting was absolutely wonderful, and I was reminded at times of Play School with Derek Griffiths. The photographs provided by Leeds Playhouse make the characters look much sillier than they were, although there was obviously a lot of exaggerated movement and facial expressions going on. Luke Byeford had the kids on his side from the off, Georgia Jackson showed just the right amount of menace in her darker roles but compassion in the lighter ones and Patrick Orkney showed his versatility on a variety of instruments, as well as aiding and abetting Ms Jackson. You can’t beat a good ukulele. There were also a few more adult jokes, I don’t mean risqué but at one point a character uses an obscure expression and is asked if he found it on Stickypedia.
The best bit though, is that it was obviously the first experience of live performance that a lot of the audience have had. This was such a good show that I am sure they will be back and, who knows, might become regular theatregoers one day.
Stick Man runs until 31st December with two or three shows on the days it is performed; 10.30am, 1.00pm and 4.00pm. For more details and to book, go to https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/stick-man/
All photographs by Mark Senior and provided by Leeds Playhouse, as was the feature image.