A child's world is full of prohibitions: Stay where I can see you. Hold onto my hand. Don't go too far. Andy Manley's endearing non-verbal piece unpicks such proscriptions. If it lets kids know that rules are often rooted in love, it also reminds adults that overprotective parenting can be stifling.
Stirring from sleep, slumped over a school desk, Manley wakes to find himself sellotaped to his chair – presumably by someone who wants to keep him in place. Each time he tries to step off the stage, a booming voice admonishes him: No. No-ooo. No, no, no. If he seems stuck, it's clear that somebody is sticking him down.
Left alone, Manley makes his own entertainment – and his own mates. With a wooden lolly stick serving as an imaginary friend, strolling around and swapping smiles, he soon discovers that friendships can be frail. One stick man snaps while sunbathing, another falls foul of a slamming desk. A third is swaddled in sellotape bandages and – er – suffocates. Each broken stick body gets a little coffin to match. Each untimely stick death earns a soft funeral march.
Designed for the over threes, Stick By Me is very deftly done; small gestures making sense to even the smallest of audiences. As another lolly stick met its grisly demise, my 18-month old companion let out a little 'uh-oh,' and as in Manley's previous Fringe hit White, there's something delightful about children's theatre that dares to stay small. His waking routine starts with a single finger stirring back to life.
A gentle comic presence with a plasticine face, Manley's inner-child forges an instant kinship with kids. Revelling in the tactility of objects – stretching sellotape across the stage or shuffling lolly sticks in his pockets – he encourages children to share the joy in small pleasures, while still springing the odd adult surprise. When a teeny ice lolly arrives from the flies, it's an unexpected little treat. Proof too that, in the end, the right amount of obedience gets its just desserts.