Just back from taking my children into the Oxfordshire countryside for a picnic performance of Mr Stink, courtesy of Chipping Norton Theatre. I’d forgotten just how fantastic it is to watch live theatre (well, there’s been no reviewing for 18 months!) and be a passenger in something creative.
Chipping Norton Theatre, like so many other brilliant regional spaces, has had to battle massively during Covid to keep going, and inventive outdoor performances like this will be an early godsend in the battle to fill the box office coffers.
The show is really aimed at younger kids (my 12 year old was very much at the tipping point of the scale) and the venue choice was perfect for them – a stunning valley at Cornbury Park, near Charlbury, where they could bomb around during the interval and roly-poly down the hill while their parents sat in deck chairs and nursed a coffee or beer.
A cast of five sang, acted and occasionally battled with the odd technical difficulty like intermittent microphones on a simple stage in a fast-paced show that told the story of the friendship between a tramp called Mr Stink and a lonely 12 year old girl Chloe Crumb, ignored by her mother and sister and bullied at school. The production comes via Leamington-based Heartbreak Productions whose mantra is to ‘tell stories that inspire, entertain, challenge and help us come to a better understanding of… how we can live together’ so there was an element of lesson learning too – what it meant to be a bully and why they might act that way; why people are wary of homeless people and why they shouldn’t be; how a family needs to support and love each other, no matter their differences.
The trick to any show like this, with so many youngsters in the audience, is the participation so ‘Mr Stink’ mingled with the kids in the picnic space before the show started, and there was almost a panto vibe with questions cast directly at the kids – ‘Do you want Chloe to read what’s in her diary?’
The show wasn’t seamless – my experience is that outdoor theatre never is – but it was a charming, inventive way to while away a beautiful evening in the countryside.
As a touring production, Mr Stink is now zipping off around the country (next stop London, then Sussex, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire Cornwall…), but if this has whetted your appetite for live performance, check out Chipping Norton Theatre’s upcoming shows. Highlights for me are Curtain Raisers (28-29 Aug) by Opera della Luna, a double bill of two short operettas by Sullivan and Offenbach; my favourite comedian Phil Wang (9 Sept); Dear Zoo (22-23 Sept); Not Lady Chatterley’s Lover (26 Sept; a parody of the DH Lawrence novel – unsurprisingly 16+!); and Richard Osman talking about The Man Who Died Twice at ChipLipFest…. and I could go on.
Most of the shows are two nights max so there’s a huge rolling feast of theatrics. And don’t worry, as Autumn weather rolls in, you can ditch your blanket and deckchair for the comfort of your Chippy Theatre sprung chair.
More about What’s On at Chipping Norton Theatre.