Stig of the Dump

Clive King, adapted by Jessica Swale
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre
Grosvenor Park, Chester

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Paisley Reid as Pip and Alex Nowak as Stig

Jessica Swale has adapted Clive King’s original story and, along with director Harry Jardine, delivered a fascinating new twist that gives a fresh perspective on issues of friendship and understanding.

British Sign Language (BSL) which was formally recognised as a language of England, Scotland and Wales in the BSL Act earlier this year, is used throughout the performance to illustrate how effective it can be to break down barriers to communication. The concept works so well that it fits seamlessly into the story and helps to amplify the challenges of being different and struggling to communicate.

Barney, admirably portrayed by Mia Ward, is deaf and suffers bullying and isolation from his peer group in a touching portrayal of an issue that is still all too common. However, upon meeting Stig, Alex Nowak’s primitive yet endearing caveman who is also deaf, they are able to converse using sign language and a friendship is formed.

Maybe the initial scenes, where the two characters meet for the first time, are a little laboured in places and could lose the audience. However, this adaptation works so well as it takes the themes of friendship and struggling to be understood, which are key to the original story, and places them in the context of deafness, its impact on people and how they can thrive despite the challenges they face.

There is the usual high energy performance from the cast who provide a rhythmic accompaniment to scenes using scrap metal items from the dump. Haylie Jones again catches the eye with her performance as Lou, Barney’s ten-year-old sister who has to act as interpreter and minder for him when she just wants to enjoy her childhood. This also serves to shine a light on the vital, but too often unseen, role played by young carers who do so much valuable work to help and protect family members who have disabilities.

Writer Jessica Swale also wrote the memorable Stig of the Dump that went down so well in 2016 in Grosvenor Park and has revisited the script to rework it into what is a striking, at times riotous and ultimately touching exposition of humanity and optimism that is accessible to all ages.

The performance also includes all the usual interaction and mischief between the cast and the audience that always makes the Grosvenor Park experience so engaging and the conventional applause is replaced by silent jazz hands.

This is a thought-provoking, informative and imaginative production with a valuable message.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings