Although we’ve published numerous reviews of Chickenshed productions in the past from Susan Elkin, this is the first time our family-sized tin of Sardines has ventured across the river to N14, and what an occasion it was. With Mini Sardines looking dapper in his waistcoat (trending long before G. Southgate’s recent fashion statement) and none other than David Walliams in attendance – plus a smattering of other celebrity supporters and Albert Square residents – this was the world premiere of the best-selling children’s author’s Mr Stink, adapted and directed by Chickenshed’s artistic director, Lou Stein.
Following last summer’s resoundingly successful and critically acclaimed adaptation of Walliams’ The Midnight Gang, the author subsequently suggested to the inclusive theatre company that it might like to next take on the tale of how 12-year-old Chloe Crumb (“pronounced C-R-U-M-E” according to Chloe’s class-obsessed mother) befriends the local foul-smelling tramp, gives him a home in the garden shed, and delivers a lesson to her family (and every one of us) in human kindness. The result from Stein is a musical evening of pure joy from start to finish.
Featuring Chickenshed regular, Keith Dunne’s, colourful and cartoon-like set and costume design, with the Crumbs' two-storey home as the focal point, the cast of twenty throw themselves into the production with gusto. The show is thoughtfully lead by Bradley Davis in the title role (joined the company at 16, and now a member of staff), with Chickenshed Young Company member, and ex-West End Matilda, Lucy-Mae Beacock appearing as Chloe on opening night (alternating performances with Lydia Stables). Both leads successfully find the touching chemistry required for such a pairing – with Davis going all-out to look every bit the part. Mini Sardines, who met the bearded actor after the show, assures me the stink was visual only! (Although his overly long and disgusting-sounding burp to scare away the school bullies remains one of Mini Sardines’ favourite bits, of course – well, that and Chloe telling the Prime Minister – Michael Bossisse – to “stick it up your fat bum!” after the PM unsuccessfully attempts to ‘play’ the homeless card with Mr Stink’s help).
Courtney Dayes (opening night, but sharing with Maddie Kavanagh) looks the part as Chloe’s seemingly favoured older sister, with Belinda McQuirk and Ashley Driver together providing a nice bit of chalk and cheese as the girls’ parents – both are also long-standing Chickenshed members. Strong support extends throughout the entire ensemble with several other roles being shared between braces of actors. Special mention must also go to Philip Constantinou as Mr Stink’s faithful dog, Duchess; entirely focused and disciplined throughout this is a nicely underplayed performance in a difficult and underestimated role.
Even Jeremy Vine makes an on-screen appearance – his professional acting debut no less – as Sir Dave, the political TV presenter with the tricky job of interviewing Mr Stink. But the final word must go to David Walliams who patiently sat through one-on-one selfies and signed books with possibly the entire audience, before the show and during the interval without once looking bored or fed up. In a wonderfully intimate atmosphere lucky theatregoers were made to feel as inclusive as the production itself by this wonderful and generous theatre company, and our very own, modern-day Roald Dahl.
David Walliams' Mr Stink is playing at Chickenshed's Rayne Theatre until 5th August. More at: www.chickenshed.org.uk