Beware the half-term revolution

Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy, adapted by Adrian Stokes from Jan Needle's novel, at Colchester Mercury until June 6.Be warned parents, you take your children to see this at your peril.

David Henshall

Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy, adapted by Adrian Stokes from Jan Needle's novel, at Colchester Mercury until June 6.

Be warned parents, you take your children to see this at your peril. Oh, you will laugh your heads off and have a good time but there's a subtle anarchy at work here that could creep into every home in the British Isles if we don't take care.

However you look at it, this is them versus us. Them is the kids and us is the grown-ups and, if I understand this piece right, them wins. Now, that won't do. It undermines everything we have been taught about handling the cunning little perishers.

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The trouble is that while we can see what is going wrong, we are laughing so much that we can't find the correct answers to the particular problems as they crop up.

It is also true that Wagstaffe is a special case. Just getting him out of bed would defeat an elite squad from the SAS. He dislikes soap and water, is very smelly and never does his chores. Tuesday is his turn to clean the toilet. Does he do it? Of course not.

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Neighbours can't stand him and their dogs, even the large ones, yelp away from him in fear so we are not really so surprised that, when they can stand it no longer, his parents, Mr and Mrs Williams, run away from home and join a circus.

Left alone with a good supply of his favourite tinned peaches and cream and no school, what more could a kid ask for? Wagstaffe runs wild but, foolishly, this includes playing in the middle of the A12 outside Colchester and he's run over by a truck.

He's a goner. The hospital can do nothing for him in the normal way, but a surgeon who really wants to be a mechanic, pieces him together again with bits of clockwork, odds and sods and a wind-up key in his back. Good as new. Well, almost.

The operating theatre scene where the staff toss out all the old bits of Wagstaff's inside - using his long intestine as a skipping rope - and replace them with pieces of machinery is sheer wonderful, hilarious music hall.

The evil circus owner makes the senior Williams' do more and more dangerous things and when he hears that they are to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, Wagstaffe decides to go to their rescue.

He is aided in this venture by a girl called Mandy Badsox who can get anybody, especially her parents, to do anything she wants by throwing tantrums of such extreme ferocity that good, sensitive parents may want to cover their daughters' eyes at this point in the show.

Michael Thomson is Wagstaffe and seven other actors, with extraordinary agility and surprising smoothness play nearly 40 other roles between them. They are, Christine Absalom, Tariq Bhatti, Clare Humphrey Ben Livingstone, Maria Lohman, David Tarkenter amd Tim Treslove, all in terrific form and enjoying every moment.

It would be wrong to give away more of the story but do listen out for lots of cleverly chosen background music - the Steptoe and Son theme for the scruffy dustmen and the stirring march from the Dam Busters as Wagstaff wins a battle with his catapult - and be ready for a half-term revolution in the home from your bolshy youngsters!

David Henshall.

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