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Stig of the Dump review at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester – ‘outstanding’

Scene from Stig of the Dump at Grosvenor Open Air Theatre, Chester. Photo: Mark McNulty
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It’s a rare show that can captivate a very young theatre audience and engage their parents and grandparents along the way.

Clive King’s 1963 novel Stig of the Dump, about a young boy and his caveman friend, is fondly remembered by generations, from those of us who read it at primary school to those who have watched it on TV, and it’s a pleasure to see it brought so vividly to the stage.

Jessica Swale has adapted the text with loving attention to detail and Derek Bond’s direction brings it to life in a way that grasps the attention of young and old alike. From the opening scene, with the actors cavorting among the audience, there is an energy to the production. After a short prologue, the empty tree-bark lined stage is filled with Jess Curtis’ set, a seemingly random but actually very carefully designed heap of rubbish: the quarry from which Stig emerges.

Anton Cross and John Seaward, as Barney and Stig, lead an immaculate ensemble cast, who play multiple roles and also provide Tayo Akinbode’s earthy musical accompaniment on improvised instruments. Cross conveys Barney’s eagerness but also his desperate loneliness, while Seaward, as the voice of Stig, has raw power but is capable of tenderness too.

By making Stig a puppet, operated and voiced by Seaward and friends, the production places us all with Barney and his family in debating the reality of the character, and it makes the tremendous transformation in the closing scenes all the more breathtaking.

Bond’s production is likely to cause as many tears of nostalgic joy as it does youthful laughter. This is family theatre of the highest standard.

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Outstanding adaptation and astute casting combine in a magical piece of family theatre