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Leona Allen as Zero and James Backway as Stanley. Picture: Manuel Harlan


Malvern Theatres


Tarantulas, lizards, snakes and scorpions are the only kind of creatures made to survive in the kind of wilderness to which Stanley Yelnats is unjustly banished in the Texas desert.

Stanley’s life is cursed with ill-fortune and injustice. His sentence is to dig holes in the barren and deserted Camp Green Lake, ironically named because it had once been a fertile scene until the curse of kissing Kate Barlow caused drought to turn it to barrenness.

Kate’s crime had been to kiss a black man. For this the black man was condemned but she herself turned from honourable teacher in the local school to outlaw and the scourge of the whole area. Her death led to rumours of hidden treasure, so the villainous sheriff and his descendants are hell-bent on trying to find the treasure they are convinced she buried in the arid sands of ‘Camp Green Lake’.

Stanley’s fellow exiles or prisoners are a bunch of colourful young offenders with catchy nicknames who are similarly condemned to dig holes and surrender any interesting objects found to the cruel camp commandant.

This imaginative, lively and varied production is a brilliant rendering of Louis Sachar’s novel. The almost entirely youthful cast provide an ensemble that combine dance, puppetry, sound and lighting effects that tell the story and create varied scenes and situations with simple but brilliantly imaginative devices.

The cast is led by James Backway as Stanley who engages our sympathy without resorting to self-pity. He is very well supported by a lively and strong team who all contribute effectively. Rhonda Crocker plays the nasty and vindictive Warden as well as Madame Zeroni most effectively; her ‘Excuse me!’ line was well delivered and humorously repeated.

Matthew Romain switched between the sympathetic Pendanski and the evil Trout Walker, Leona Allen is the taciturn Zero who learns to read and becomes something of a hero with Stanley.

The rest of the team play their roles well. In general they maintain good accents throughout.

This production benefits from excellent choreography, brilliantly designed lighting, visually strong design and superb, coherent direction. Adam Penford’s management of pace and variety of creative ideas works very well.

This fast-moving production switches from humour to pathos and is great entertainment for young and old alike. It runs to Saturday 7 March.

Timothy Crow


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