David Walliams’ name is usually synonymous with television comedies pitched fairly and squarely at an adult audience. Arguably, he remains best known as the co-creator, co-writer and co-star of the popular BBC sketch comedy series Little Britain, his most successful collaboration with fellow comedian Matt Lucas.
But Walliams has, in fact, found success wearing a number of hats, including that of children’s author. He’s sold more than 12.5 million copies of his books, which have been translated into 46 languages. Now, his award-winning book, Mr Stink, has been brought to life on stage in a production for primary school-aged children (and their adult chaperones) that will tour Australia over the coming months.
“We did a production of it last year, adapted by Maryam Master,” director Jonathan Biggins tells Theatre People.
“It was at the Sydney Opera House and a few other places, and then it went over to the United Arab Emirates In November.”
The production received a nomination at the 2016 Sydney Theatre Awards for Best Production for Children.
Biggins describes Mr Stink as a kind of Mary Poppins-esque tale.
“[Mr Stink is] a homeless man who lives on a bench and smells rather pungently. He’s befriended by a little girl called Chloe, who’s having a bit of trouble at home – her mum’s standing for parliament and has become a bit of a monster and is turning her family against her.”
Chloe, he says, decides to hide Mr Stink in her family’s garden shed.
“Mr Stink [becomes] a bit of a celebrity because he’s brought into the whole political campaign and, through that, Mrs Chrumb, Chloe’s mum, realises what’s important in life and then once the family is reunited, Mr Stink drifts off on the road again,” Biggins says.
“So, quite Mary Poppins [but] instead of saving Mr Banks, he’s saving Mrs Crumb this time.”
Biggins also talks about the important social themes at the centre of the story.
“It’s a show about making sure that you don’t neglect people, and even if someone’s homeless, they’re still a person and they still have a story and you have to treat them well. It’s a story about inclusion and not being excluded.”
Biggins discusses the challenges associated with creating theatre for children.
“You’ve got to be able to engage them and you’ve got to hold their attention,” he says.
“So, it’s got to be full of energy and it’s got to move forward, you’ve got to be very clear in the storytelling, you’ve got to be very clear in the characters, and I think if you’re performing in it, you’ve just got to stay true to those things and not be distracted by the noise that might be coming from the slightly younger members of the audience!”
Biggins recalls the strong audience response Mr Stink received from young theatregoers in its premiere season.
“What we found was that the kids really got engaged with the characters and the story,” he says.
“Often with children’s theatre, they laugh at the fart jokes or the overly funny stuff – and there’s some of that in it, that’s true – but what surprised us pleasantly is that they really engaged with the story and the characters. When Mr Stink told the story of why he became homeless, you could hear a pin drop.
“We were very pleasantly surprised by that, and I think that’s the great strength of the show – that it’s got a lot of heart. The kids really respond to that.”
Plays Monday 27th February 6pm at the Seymour Centre (Cnr City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale NSW)
Tickets: $29 / Groups 6+ $26 per person.
Bookings via www.seymourcentre.com or phone (02) 9351 7940
For more information on the production, including all 2017 national tour dates, visit www.cdp.com.au