If you've never seen a David Walliams book transformed into a stage musical - do it. You won't be disappointed. And make sure it's a Heartbreak Productions show! I and my two girls aged 7 and 5 bundled up a picnic, packed up some blankets, slapped on sun cream and set ourselves up in the lush green fields of Leamington Spa Rugby Club for an open-air, evening, musical performance of 'Mr Stink'.
While I've read 'Fing' by David Walliams with my eldest, I didn't know the story of 'Mr Stink'. She was glued to the outdoor stage and its cast of five wonderfully absorbed actors. And then there was singing! I'd had no idea that the production was going to be a musical - which was even better for my two.
Published back in 2009, Walliams' 'Mr Stink' follows the story of 12-year-old Chloe who befriends Mr Stink, a local homeless man. Chloe's mother is campaigning to become an MP and between her mother and her younger sister Annabelle (who's perfect in every way), Chloe feels a bit left out, a bit dejected and a bit overlooked. Having written that homeless people should be taken off the streets in her manifesto, Chloe's mother is horrified to find that Chloe has hidden Mr Stink in their garden shed. Appearing on TV, Mr Stink steals the show.
Although Chloe thinks that her mother loves Annabelle more than her, there's a happy ending to the story, when it turns out that that isn't true at all. It's a wonderful story, with a heart and soul, a strong message and a few bits that will tug on your heart strings.
I actually can't remember the last time I went to an open-air theatre, and with the pandemic causing such upheaval to the arts' programme in the UK, it was thrilling to actually watch something in vaguely 'normal' circumstances. With a running time of around two hours, the interval was a good chance for a toilet break, and a waitress even came out to the field to take drinks orders. But the actors didn't have a break (in the break), because they set up a magnetic dart board and held a little competition for the children*; and the winner was awarded a lovely bag of sweets (and was immensely proud of himself!).
All in all I was very impressed; at the setting, the organisation, the production itself, the enthusiasm and energy of the skeleton cast, their amazing talent (it takes lots of confidence to perform, let alone in the open air in front of a young audience), and all of it produced under the trying pandemic circumstances and regulations. I thoroughly recommend it.
The cast even put out collection buckets for homeless charity Shelter at the end: a lovely touch.
*All COVID precautions taken.
Alice is Editor of Raring2go! magazine for Burton and Ashby in the Midlands. She is a former journalist and freelance writer and has two young daughters.