REVIEW: Stella, Filskit Theatre (Stratford Circus Arts Centre)

We love Stratford Circus Arts Centre. They always programme brilliant family shows with lovely messages. So when Mummy saw the advertising for Stella, she was so confident that it would be great that she even booked an 11am performance. This may not sound particularly brave but Stratford is a little bit of a trek and we are not morning people. Especially not when Mummy and Mrs Mummy have been on a rare Friday night out. We woke the next morning with fuzzy heads and stumbled off to Stratford hoping Stella would be the sort of show that renders small humans still and speechless with wonder.

Given the sorry state in which we arrived at Stratford it is perhaps even more impressive that we both had a delightful morning. Mrs Mummy has form for falling asleep in children’s shows, so you would have thought that the odds of a hungover snooze would be quite high. Especially since the show is set at night time. But she was too captivated to even think about resting her eyes.

Through a mixture of aerial circus, clowning and projections, Stella tells a story about friendship and bravery. Stella (Hannah Thompson) is a star engineer. She lives on the moon and keeps the stars shining bright for the people in the world below her. But as that world gets busier and brighter, the stars become harder to see. With Stella’s way of life threatened, she comes crashing down to earth. There she meets a new friend, Ivy (Rachel Fullegar) and together they embark on an adventure that will change both their lives.

The set comprises a large piece of circus rigging, with colourful light bulbs hanging from it, and an aerial hoop in the centre on to which the moon is projected. Thompson effortlessly darts about between the hoop and stars, watching the world below, and listening to wishes made by the people who live in it.

Hannah Thompson in Stella. Credit: David Poremba.

Meanwhile Fullegar’s Ivy rushes through busy streets in a desperate attempt to get home before dark. Once safely in her apartment, she pulls out an impressive collection of colourful lamps from under her bed (which sits under the rigging). Although simple, this scene had the audience howling with laughter, as each new lamp emerged.

Things really take off once Stella and Ivy meet for the first time. There are some hilarious moments which come out of their attempts to communicate with each other, despite not speaking the same language. There is some brilliant physical comedy in this scene, including some impressive floor-based circus skills and some clowning that resulted in Mummy making a mental note to warn the munchkins not to put light-bulbs in any of their orifices! It soon transpires that Stella needs Ivy’s help to fix the stars. But with the bright city lights making them too difficult to see, Ivy has to face her fear of the dark, before joining Stella on an epic journey to her home.

Hannah Thompson and Rachel Fullegar in Stella. Credit: David Poremba.

Stella is funny, engaging and uplifting. Although it’s a circus show, the only thing flashy about it is the light bulbs. It’s quiet and understated, but its two stars shine brightly. Both are highly skilled at their crafts, making the physical work look far less challenging than it probably is. They were also absolutely lovely with the children at the end of the show, taking time to chat with every child on their way out. The messaging is also quite subtle. If anything, we felt that the light pollution message (with which the show is advertised) is not the main thing that children will take from it. The themes of friendship and facing your fears are probably more easily interpreted by young audiences. But then, they’re not bad things to take away either.

Overall, we would thoroughly recommend Stella. It’s enjoyable for children and adults alike. Even on a hangover. And for that, Mummy awards it a rating of Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things).

Stella played at Stratford Circus Arts Centre on Saturday 9 November 2019.See the Filskit theatre website for more information and tour dates.