Putting a political discussion programme in a family show is both ambitious and risky: what about those who might not agree with the political points being raised? Why even talk about the apparent important current affairs of the day when a significant proportion of the audience has not yet reached the voting age? Fortunately, in Mr Stink, the title character (Bradley Davis), not having been on a television programme before, is so put out by his regular routine that some hilarity is caused by him needing to use the conveniences while the programme is on-air. Sir Dave (Jeremy Vine, he of the BBC Radio 2 lunchtime talk show, making a professional acting debut in this production) does his best to cope with Mr Stink’s eccentricities, while Mrs Crumb (Belinda McGuirk), a prospective parliamentary candidate, has told one lie too many in her bid to become a backbench MP. And like Hyacinth Bucket, she insists on an unconventional pronunciation of her surname, performed to great comic effect by Mr Stern (Finn Walters), a correspondent for The Times.
As ever with a show with children in the audience in mind, some suspension of disbelief is required. There are neither dungeons nor dragons in this Chickenshed Theatre production, but Mrs Crumb’s election manifesto (a full version is in the book written by David Walliams – and gets increasingly absurd as it goes along) mostly includes the kind of decisions that Parliament wouldn’t even make. That said, there is something about Mrs Crumb’s overall attempts to look respectable that has parallels with actual politicians, where these days it seems to be all about image and presentation, style over substance.
It’s repeated enough times that, with no active encouragement from the cast, the younger members of the audience took to singing the refrain, “We want Stink! We want Stink!” after Mr Stink proves to be the only person on the television show panel that made sense, without using weasel words. “We want Stink!” continued after the show was over, children filing out of the theatre singing it in much the same manner that ‘big people’ would hum an infectious tune straight after seeing a musical.
In Superbrilliantamazing!, emotions brim over until Chloe (Lucy-Mae Beacock, sharing the role with Lydia Stables), Mrs Crumb’s younger daughter, cannot help but burst into song. Although the musical numbers are rather silly – “embarrassing” was one child audience member’s verdict – they are, on the whole, lively, and allow for some vibrant choreography (Dina Williams). But the narrative is really driven by the spoken dialogue, with the songs more or less reinforcing certain key points.
Incidentally, my first encounter with Beacock’s theatrical career was at a Christmas concert in December 2016. Born with spina bifida, Beacock had later been diagnosed with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. The best surgical option is a pioneering technique developed in the United States. But as the cost was so prohibitive, and not available privately in the UK let alone on the NHS, her family took to fundraising, and I was in a position at the time to donate several hundred pounds. The flights were booked, and the operation went ahead. Now fully mobile again, Beacock, at 16 years old, led a talented cast with flair and confidence, and I trust her ambitions to pursue a career treading the boards can now be fully realised. Indeed, it is being fully realised.
The trek up to Chickenshed at the top end of the Piccadilly line was long enough for me to just about finish ploughing through Walliams’ novel before seeing the show. The musical is as faithful to the book as it could be, complete with Raj (Goutham Rohan), the local shopkeeper, Elizabeth (Chanice Anaman, sharing the role with Stella Simao), the family cat, and Mrs Crumb’s husband (Ashley Driver), who, like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, still wears work attire but is without a job.
Some pertinent contemporary social issues are tackled in a thoughtful manner. A joyous and entertaining production. And as I can’t fault it, full marks.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The very kind, but lonely, 12-year-old Chloe invites the homeless ‘Mr Stink’ and his dog to leave behind the wooden bench where they have taken up residence and secretly move into her family’s shed. Matters become more complicated when Chloe’s mother – with unfulfilled political ambitions – tries to take credit for Chloe’s generosity. And precisely who is Mr Stink, anyway?
Chickenshed’s brilliant staging of the story features a large cast, all singing and dancing on Chickenshed’s biggest stage, The Rayne Theatre. Brought to you in the true spirit of Chickenshed’s unique inclusive ethos, the heartwarming and uplifting message of acceptance shines through the whole show.
Also featuring a special guest appearance from a certain Jeremy Vine(!), this wonderfully warm and funny production will live long in the memory.
You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You might want to hold your nose.
Cast and Production Team:
Mr Stink Bradley Davis
Duchess Phil Constantinou
Chloe Crum Lucy Mae Beacock | Lydia Stables
Annabelle Crumb Courtney Dayes | Maddie Kavanagh
Mother Crumb Belinda McGuirk
Sir Dave Jeremy Vine
Elizabeth Chanice Anaman | Stella Simao
Father Crumb Ashley Driver
Raj Goutham Rohan
Rosamund Charlotte Laitner | Louise Connolly
Mr Stern Finn Walters
Prime Minister Michael Bossisse
Director: Lou Stein, Designer: Keith Dunne, Composer: Dave Carey, Production Manager: Andrew Caddies
Stage Manager: Malcolm Gorrie, Choreographer: Dina Williams, Movement Director: Tiia-Mari Makinen
18th July, 2018 – 5th August, 2018
Rayne Theatre, Chickenshed