Comic-turned-bestselling-kids’-author David Walliams is a big fan of Chickenshed. Last year the company, which has a youth theatre, education programme and strong ties with the local community, staged Walliams’s ‘Midnight Gang’. This year, the man himself suggested they stage ‘Mr Stink’. It’s a strong spiritual match: both the original book and Chickenshed elegantly argue for the importance of inclusion. The story is a little laboured in places – but at least it’s a labour of love.
Just like Roald Dahl (surely an inspiration), Walliams doesn’t shy away from the dark side of life. ‘Mr Stink’ is about a homeless man with a tragic past and features self-serving politicians, a bullying mother and an unemployed husband who has taken to hiding under the stairs. It’s serious-minded yet emotionally lightweight – a combination that does occasionally strain, especially on stage.
Adaptor and director Lou Stein remains faithful to the book, sometimes a little too faithful. The script is peppered with narrative asides and is often frustratingly repetitive. Thankfully, Keith Dunne’s witty set, which features a walking car and corner shop, keeps things motoring forward. Dave Carey’s shamelessly silly songs also pep up the production and allow the large company to shine.
Lucy-Mae Beacock holds things together with real composure and charm. Beacock plays the kind-hearted young Chloe, who befriends Mr Stink (Bradley Davis) and sneaks him into the garden shed. She’s strongly supported by Belinda McGuirk and Ashley Driver as the preening mum and hapless dad – but it’s Beacock’s Chloe that keeps Mr Stink feeling fresh.