JOYCE MCMILLAN on MR STINK at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 14.7.11
4 stars ****
IT’S ALL ABOUT PONGS and stinks, and very bad smells indeed; but if children are expecting a touch of Roald Dahl-type subversion from this stage adaptation of David Walliams’s Mr. Stink, playing its only Scottish dates in Glasgow this week, then they are in for a bit of a disappointment. For in this soft-edged musical version, Walliams’s story emerges as a dear old English family romance, like a cross between Mary Poppins and an essay by George Orwell, who famously pointed out that the whole English class system is built around the assumption that the lower orders are a bit whiffy.
So as in Mary Poppins, we meet a middle-class family who have become very unhappy indeed, as a result of embracing a load of wrong, snobbish, and materialistic values. Mother, in particular, is a fiercely aspiring true-blue candidate who wants to sweep the riff-raff from the streets; and our nice 12-year-old heroine Chloe feels “homeless in her heart”, as her theme song puts it. And predictably, things improve when the Crumbs come into touch with a more vibrant and vital underclass, represented here by the local smelly tramp Mr. Stink, and his dog Duchess.
The resut is a jolly, good-hearted and strangely polite show, full of mild political and media satire, pleasant songs, and and a nice combination of live action and puppetry, sustained by a lovely double act from Peter Edbrook as Mr. Stink and Lotte Gilmore as Chloe. The show’s main novelty is the little scratch-and-sniff storybook that accompanies it, with the kids invited to unleash a bad smell for each scene of the show, as it unfolds. In truth though, the smells are not that bad; and in the end, as Mr. Stink turns out to be a long-lost Lord, the show seems full of an old-fashioned one-nation romanticism that leaves the Glasgow audience happy and entertained, but also – I think – a shade bemused.