I set off to the ArtsDepot looking forward to a fun, family show. After all, it’s Sunday afternoon, the kids are off, and Stan features A MASSIVE DINOSAUR. Doesn’t get much better than that, surely? And I have to say, this is not a bad children’s play at all; it is obvious that a lot of effort has been put into it. But I left thinking that perhaps it’s more fitting as an educational tool for school than a weekend treat.
We meet a boy called Sam (Ross Thompson) whose parents are splitting up. He’s struggling with it, but his mum (Gemma Green) is thinking more about her own problems than his. Unable to articulate his feelings, he sits alone on the school field, where he meets Alex (Alexandra James), a friendly girl who has a bag full of dinosaurs, and who happens to be deaf. Together they find ways to listen and communicate with one another.
Alex is a great character, played with joyful energy by James. She is totally unapologetic about signing, and Sam finds that if he wants to spend time with her he needs to respect that and learn BSL too. Their shared experiences of rubbish packed lunches and a passion for dinosaurs leads them to become friends, with Alex helping Sam manage his emotions and find ways to cope. It’s not long before they are taking an imaginary trip to Manchester Museum, where they encounter Stan, the enormous t-rex.
The scene-setting for the show is done by video projection, effectively moving us between locations. However, there are captions over the stage to display and explain the dialogue, but they are rather patchy. Sometimes the text overwrites itself, making it impossible to read. For me, the icons within the writing make it overcomplicated, defeating the object. Additionally, although the show is aimed at ages 7-11 there were numerous younger children present, who were unable to understand these surtitles, and their carers were having to read out loud to them.
The first part of the story, where Sam’s difficulties are disclosed, is quite stressful as he argues with his mum, and it lacks proper pace. Things do pick up when the bag of dinosaurs appears, allowing humorous play between the two main characters. Then, when they meet the giant, virtual dinosaur, the projection is great and it felt like we were finally getting to the fun parts. But this spectacle then failed to go anywhere – not really a part of the plot, just wedged in to the story.
The post-show ‘workshop’ really dragged things down. It wasn’t a creative activity, as you might expect, with kids jumping up on stage to become dinosaurs, or practicing BSL for themselves. Instead families remained in their seats while writer Sarah Emmott asked individual children to identify the different things they’d seen in the show. It was a drawn out process, as she then explained why each was included. It was more like homework than fun, so I must admit to leaving after ten minutes, feeling that if these themes hadn’t been made clear by the performance then it hadn’t done its job properly. Perhaps things improved afterwards, but this pseudo-Ted Talk felt better suited to a school day.
Stan presents really valid ideas about different ways of communicating, using concepts of food, toys, and shared experiences as well as BSL and captioning to add interest and access. The cast are great, deafness is normalised, the t-rex is impressive, and it’s clearly a considered piece of work. However, overall it drags, and Sam’s sad story is not balanced out with quite enough fun for a Sunday afternoon’s entertainment.
Written by Sarah Emmott
Directed by Jon McGrath
Produced by Art with Heart
Stan is currently on tour around the country until 20 March. Check Art With Heart’s website via the below button for further details.