DramaFamilyNorth WestReview

Stig of the Dump – Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester

Reviewer: Abbie Rippon

Writer: Clive King

Adaptor: Jessica Swale

Director: Harry Jardine 

We’re back at Grosvenor Park for the third instalment of their summer rep season, and this final show playing to packed audiences aged from three to infinity is the family favourite Stig of the Dump.

Originally written for Grosvenor Park’s 2016 summer season, Jessica Swales’ adaptation of Clive King’s classic novel places a different twist on our young hero Barney. A young boy who has shifted to a new school having moved in with his grandparents, Swales British Sign Language integrated production makes Barney a deaf character struggling to make friends in a new community. With a grandmother who can’t sign and an older sister who feels burdened as Barney’s BSL interpreter, Barney’s isolation leads him to befriend the caveman Stig, who is also deaf, but doesn’t speak using modern BSL. A testament to humans ability to communicate non-verbally, Stig and Barney become firm friends blessing each other with friendship, protection and knowledge.

The production is joyful, energetic and vibrant. With most of the movement inspired to support both a deaf and hearing audience, the physical energy of the production is infectious and every member of the cast performs with vigour and vibrancy engaging an audience of all ages. Mia Ward is charming and engaging as Barney, armed with a slingshot and a cheeky grin, they are every inch the impish younger brother to 

Haylie Jones’ Lou. Jones, as the big sister character, and Barney’s interpreter for his non-signing gran helps audience members who are less familiar with BSL to understand both the joys and pressures of a child in Lou’s situation. One particular moment when Lou and Barney discuss Barney’s disadvantaged learning due to a lack of BSL interpreters in school shines a light on a common issue faced by deaf learners. Additionally, Lou’s comments that Barney can lip-read, to those who feel they can talk about him in his presence, awaken the audience’s awareness of unconscious prejudices towards the deaf community. Well written and performed, these moments offer important messages to the hearing members of the audience at Grosvenor Park.

Alex Nowak as the title character of Stig is a firm favourite for the children in the audience, funny and physical he charms the crowd every time he is on stage. 

The show also includes an integrated BSL interpreter, Laura Goulden, who, instead of signing from the side as an interpreter might do in any other production, plays characters across the entire show as an active, involved presence in each scene, signing for the audience while fully engaging in the action. Every show should do this, especially if the interpreter will perform with the feisty and spirited energy that Goulden adds to the production performance.

One could wax lyrical about every cast member as each adds their own spark to this gutsy production. With a cast that are so physical and indefatigable, the audience is exhausted merely watching.

Jess Curtis’ design has a lovely 70s feel to it, plenty of stripes, flannel and denim bedecking the cast. A simple set of junkyard items is all that is needed when the storytelling is this good. Rather than bedecking the set with superfluous bits and bobs, Curtis’ open stage allows the cast to do what they do best; some physical, slapstick fun!

You may end up watching in the rain, but this feel good family show will keep you warm (if not dry) this summer. It will also leave you feeling inspired to learn a bit of BSL if you don’t know some already.

Runs in REP until 29th August 22

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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