Jessica Swale, based on the story by Clive King
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester
August 7-29, 2022; 1 hr 55mins
Stig of the dump is a time-honoured staple in primary schools, and whether it is from the TV series or being read in class, the story holds fond memories for many.
Its storyline, of the outsider being bullied by their peers yet finding acceptance and belonging, is one that should be explored in every school.
This new adaptation from Storyhouse builds on the company's BSL-integrated production of Antigone from last year, staying true to the story but adding a new dimension in casting Barney (Mia Ward) as a deaf person. Indeed both Ward and Alex Nowak (Stig) are deaf and it is great to see a headline production aimed at all ages incorporating two leads with profound disability.
The 14-strong repertory company is staging three productions this summer, Stig of the Dump, Romeo and Juliet and Little Women, though this is the only one to use BSL which the cast joined in with alacrity.
Potentially there are artistic problems with this. The play is presented as an all-age production, but some of the skills required in understanding and interpreting the spoken word, the signing and the graphic use of body language, are sophisticated. There are, fortunately, great slapstick moments to draw in the audience and make the evening accessible to the young whether hearing or impaired. Being open air theatre in the round, some dialogue – spoken and signed – is lost, but the story is communicated well throughout.
The show has some thoughtful moments that go to the heart of childhood. In one, Barney's sister Lou (Hayley Jones), faces the problem of caring for a disabled sibling while wanting to be part of the wider group of friends – who don't understand her brother. The play explores the familiar problem of children initially rejecting those who are different, but shows that once a child knows why a response isn't forthcoming, hostility usually dissipates.
Importantly, having chosen BSL consideration, the play confronts the nature of communication; how body language and gesture can replace speech, how signing is a valid form of language, and yet how powerful text or speech can be.
There is a definite end to the story here, rather than the more open-ended conclusion of the book. Barney finds at least some people identify with and understand him - which is, after all, the goal of communication. The play acknowledges that this is more difficult for some than others.
The company has been excellent in all three productions, showing consistent enthusiasm, adaptability and humour. Even though I saw a lunchtime performance, the Grosvenor Park theatre enjoyed a wonderful, relaxed atmosphere. A very satisfying experience.
More information and tickets here