CroydoNites Festival event review: STAN is “more ‘Keith and Orville’ than ‘Derek and Clive’”

By - Friday 13th November, 2015

Jonny Rose admires STAN’s cojones, but ultimately is not amused

Photo by Jim Barnard, used with permission.

I’m a big fan of taboos being broken and shibboleths being challenged (although, despite humanity’s best efforts, I’ve yet to find anything as unfailingly offensive to people than the biblical truth that they are not good and deserve hell).

To me, short of the actual sacred nothing is sacred, so I was very excited when I saw that the CroydoNites Festival of New Theatre was going to debut with ‘STAN’: an 18+ puppet show whose protagonist – ably steered and voiced by Jim Barnard – promised to be “loud, aggressive, unapologetic”.

This really was theatre for grown-ups – and I admire boldness, even when it doesn’t succeed

At only an hour long, the two act play presented us with a series of monologues from the titular star: a bald, sickly-coloured man called Stan. Stan was quick to establish himself as a big voice with a lot to say for himself: we were immediately treated to his views on early man (“What a great life – just f*cking and killing”) and the unwelcome sexlessness of the niqab (“These women need to put the t*tty back into identity”).

It soon became very clear, however, that for all Stan’s oikish braggadocio beneath it all was – surprise – a man who is hurting deeply. Our first insight comes by way of the final line of the first act (“Do you know what an epiphany is? It’s what a man has the moment before his wife leaves him”). This chink in Stan’s armour sets the play’s second half up for what is a series of childhood regressions induced by Stan’s therapist (a French-accented fingerpuppet, if you must know) where we are furnished with a backstory of abusive teachers and neglectful parents.

The play ends on a redemptive (if unconvincing) note with Stan’s therapist telling him to “not look at the hole, look at the doughnut around it”. We are left with the intimation that Stan has been released from his childhood demons, freed to live a more equable life.

More interesting than Stan’s foul-mouthed invectives was what he wouldn’t say

The brevity of the play and the messiness of the vignettes meant that I struggled to find any cohesive themes in STAN to grapple with. That said, more interesting than Stan’s boorish ejaculations to the front row (“Are you looking at my c*ck?”) was what Stan wouldn’t say. Stan wasn’t racist. Or homophobic. Or ableist. Nor, did Stan weigh-in on contemporary culture war controversies around the transgendered or abortion. As such, Stan’s supposedly controversial utterances were actually desperately safe: neatly contained within the Overton Window of PC acceptability. Sure there were a few ribald taunts at audience members’ figures and strategically deployed c-words, but really the billed ”anti-new man”, was more Orville and Keith than Derek & Clive.

Whilst the story left me largely unmoved, the production itself was fantastic.

This was a sparse production with no props except for a mixing desk and a stool; the spartan nature of the stage did much to focus the energy on Stan and Barnard. In a way, the audience were the props: goaded by Stan into the storyline at specific junctures and expertly manipulated to create tension and release. The music created a suitably oppressive atmosphere but it was used sparingly, instead allowing the mood to be orchestrated by Stan’s frenetic outbursts. Puppetry is not something I usually go in for but Barnard’s mastery in both moving and voicing the STAN puppet was incredibly involved: this is a man who literally sweats his trade. It’s a shame then that the effort was let down by a lacklustre script and wandering storyline.

Curator and founder Anna Arthur should be absolutely applauded for having the gumption and ingenuity to put together CroydoNites: she is a wonderful example of a Croydonian who is not content to just sit and bemoan the borough’s cultural offering but actually makes the effort to do something about it.

Although the play did not work for me, I’m impressed that CroydoNites even considered putting on something as challenging as STAN. This really was theatre for grown-ups – and I admire boldness, even if, in STAN’s case, it ultimately doesn’t succeed.

It’s not too late to see more CroydoNites plays:

  • Figs in Wigs at Matthews Yard on Saturday 14th at 8pm
  • Jonzi D at the Stanley Halls on Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th at 8pm
  • Kate O’Donnell at the Stanley Halls on Friday 20th at 8pm

Full booking details here.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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