Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Flat Stanley

Based on the story by Jeff Brown and illustrations by Scott Nash, adapted for stage by Mike Kenny
Co-produced by WYP and Polka Theatre
Courtyard Theatre. West Yorkshire Playhouse
(2007)

Production photo

Stanley Lambchop, his mum, dad and brother Arthur are everyday city American: the dad reads his paper, the mom fries eggs and the kids suffer from sibling rivalry. Then Stanley gets squashed by a billboard. He has some adventures - being flown as a kite, slipping under the kitchen door, being posted to California and so on. Then brother Arthur inflates him with a pump. And that's it.

The show runs for one hour twenty minutes without a break. It seemed like a very long time to me, but my six year old grandson was happy enough throughout. And, apart from a strange low about sixty minutes in, when the very little kids in the auditorium set each other off a-wailing, so were the rest of the audience.

The set is simple - a back wall with doors and windows. Dominated by yellow and orange. Designer Karen Tennent has clearly stuck close to the book illustrations. This is clear also in the wardrobe and hair departments.

For my taste there was a little too much pious a capella singing of very simple songs in a sub-Sondheim style.

But the show is full of good, simple, theatrical business. Letters are stuck onto the wall to spell out titles, eggs are stuck on the wall to signify their frequent consumption. A door is carried on set for Flat Stanley to slip under, and so on and so forth. Stanley himself (played by Stewart Cairns) moves his own flattened image, holding it in front of himself, moving his legs with a clever but simple shoe device, saying his lines.

Plenty of 'the magic of theatre' then, and the kids took it in their stride, responding with considered chuckles and outright laughter. I was amazed at the degree of concentration they showed: no displays of temper or overt boredom. Credit here to Mike Kenny and Gail McIntyre for first class story telling.

And the acting was up to scratch. Lisa Howard was a fine, well intentioned housefrau and Robin Simpson's dad showed a good balance of self-interest and consideration for the kids. The most impressive part of the whole show, for me, was Ian Bonar's understated and subtle portrayal of brother Arthur's antagonism to Stanley's new and charismatic form.

Fine and dandy then? No. Rather like The Wizard of Oz next door in The Quarry, Flat Stanley seems soulless to me with its over-cool, clinical atmosphere, bright lighting, precise singing and the careful reproduction of rather irritating American accents. What a shame, no joyful anarchy for the little kids this year!

The production ends on 13th January

Reviewer: Ray Brown