On the greyest of Summer days in Grosvenor Park the sun chose to show itself only once – call it the magic of theatre, divine intervention or blind luck, the timing was superb – Stig (of dump fame) was teaching the characters onstage his ‘caveman’ sign language for ‘sun’ and as he turned his hunched frame and pointed to the sky, streams of light burst through the clouds in a call and response of epic proportions.
Other bright lights were not hard to find in this production of the family favourite, ‘Stig of the Dump’ which focuses on communication in families and friendships. This is personified by Barney (Mia Ward), a deaf boy who finds his only friendship with Stig (Alex Nowak), a deaf caveman who lives in the dump. We watch as they form a friendship in spite of them not speaking the same (sign) language. Along with Barney, we learn Stig’s language and learn to communicate with him without them ever saying a word.
Every other character in the play is speaking and hearing and through the use of spoken English, sign, physical theatre and mime they communicate effectively with Barney and through him, the audience. To remind the audience of the contrast between our experience of the story and Barney’s, the ensemble provided a soundscape with instruments ranging from piano, violin and banjolele to oil drums, bin lids and (literally) the kitchen sink!
Subtlety and energy were never lacking but the pace and execution occasionally found itself in no-man’s land between a nuanced commentary on the struggles and triumphs of the deaf community and a fun-filled family show. The audience was full of energetic children and restlessness is inevitable but I felt that the production missed some opportunities to engage the audience and keep that energy focused on the stage. There was an attempt to teach the audience the ‘caveman boogie woogie’ but it wasn’t committed to fully which left only a few sporadic participants. I’m sure small changes will be made to grip the younger audience and communicate this story clearly to all ages.
All of the acting was brilliantly exaggerated apart from that of Barney and Stig who were able to perform free from the constraints of words as we know them which gave them a subtlety the other characters couldn’t access. The most powerful moment of the play came from Mia Ward as Barney – highly charged in a very emotional exchange, shouting at his sister while making no sound at all. The audience could hear nothing of his side of the argument but could hear every word through their phenomenal acting. A very real glimpse into the life of a deaf person trying to make themselves heard.
An aspirational piece of theatre sometimes caught between two audiences but with moments of undoubtable brilliance. 4/5
With thanks to Evolve Performing Arts