Susan Elkin | 13 Dec 2020 23:10pm
The last show I saw in March before lockdown was Waiting For The Ship To Sail at Chickenshed so it was a movingly powerful experience to be back there at last. Yes, the foyer has been stripped of seating, there are strict rules about use of the facilities and, of course, the audience is small capacity and distanced. Nonetheless we were there, in the Raynes Theatre for cast of ten to warm our hearts with a new version of David Walliams’s Mr Stink. And jolly good it felt.
Lou Stein, Chickenshed’s artistic director, has staged Mr Stink before – in his trademark large-scale style – in 2018 and 2019. This one was different. The length is pared down to 75 minutes to preclude the need for an interval and all the action on stage is distanced. Full marks then to the very slick four-strong ensemble whose song and dance routines are lively, vibrant and fun – even though they aren’t close to each other and often, I suspect, can’t see their fellow dancers. And I loved the moment when they donned masks to move in and carry and lift a sofa with an actor on it as part of the choreography, meaning that they were, briefly, closer to one another.
Lucy-Mae Peacock is perfect as Chloe, the rather troubled little girl beset by turbulent family life, who befriends a tramp. She gets the right blend of feistiness, courage and diffidence and sings like a nightingale. She also looks right. Although Peacock is 18, she is very small of stature and makes a delightful visual contrast to Jonny Morton’s tall Mr Stink – a role he alternates with Bradley Davis. Morton creates a kindly, disinhibited, calm persona for Mr Stink and in the final duet with Chloe, his bass voice harmonises satisfyingly with the high clarity of hers.
Ashley Driver (alternating with Demar Lambert) as Mr Crumb is both funny and poignant and Brenda McGurk is, yet again, deliciously outrageous as Mrs Crumb until she finally sees sense and softens.
It’s a show with a lot of warmth not least because it addresses issues such as inclusion, diversity and bullying without being in any way clunky or obvious. That’s why it’s a perfect fit for Chickenshed whose mission is firmly rooted in theatre changing lives by working with everyone including the most vulnerable people in society irrespective of age.
Dave Carey is, as usual, the MD for this show but I missed the live band. This show is performed to backing tracks which means that there are occasion timing glitches. I understand, of course, why you can’t have a group of tightly packed musicians in a gallery at the moment and look forward to their return before too long. Meanwhile that’s only a very minor gripe about a fine and valiant production.