What a veritable feast of dreams (fulfilled/dashed), love (from unequivocal to broken hearts) and make-believe (from talking birds, insects, a frog—even fireworks!), warming hearts young and old in Kate Hennig’s marvellous compilation of four favourite fairy tales from the Sultan of Lavender, Oscar Wilde.
To bring these well-loved stories to engaging life, six actors, as many again puppets and a covey of kids (given a one-hour workshop prior to every performance) filled the Court House Theatre stage for nearly an hour—time vanished as quickly and magically as the Selfish Giant’s catalytic Small Boy (both finding true joy in the world beyond ours).
Director Christine Brubaker kept the trains running on time with inventive staging and clever employment of set pieces (notably the-name-of-each-story-unfurling-on-a-banner gag never felt stale).
Jennifer Goodman’s overall design was storybook smart right from the opening of the BIG red doors. Everything was expertly lit by Siobhán Sleath—especially the discreet changes in the Giant’s garden as winter and spring duked it out with the chatty fruit trees. As well, John Gzowski’s original score readily captured Wilde’s creative inventions whether employing a sliding-down violin for Happy Prince tears or providing Nightingale with a song that warbled and chirped along with the greatest of ease.
The puppets themselves (thanks in large part to consultant Mike Petersen) were wonderfully expressive and handled with such skill and care by the actors that their human manipulators almost disappeared from the collective stream of consciousness.
Throughout the performance, the half dozen cast members “took stage” or subtlety complemented one another as required.
Marion Day delivered an ideally stoic Happy Prince and an appropriately quacky, quirky White Duck. Nightingale had a worthy advocate in Emily Lukasik while PJ Prudat produced a radiant Moon—moving with exquisite poise—and a delightfully saucy Dragonfly.
As Remarkable Rocket, Sanjay Talwar fired on all haughtier-than-thou cylinders and induced not a few tears from the crowd with his oh-so-gentle rendering of Little Boy. From the first “ribbit” it’s hard to imagine a better Frog than Jonathan Tan’s leap-filled characterization (and kudos to Goodman’s “flipper sense”—one of many costume highlights that deftly combined form, function and quick changes). Also playing Student, Tan’s nose-in-the-books reaction after being scorned by the love of his life will resonate with anyone who has ever seen their amorous intentions trumped by materialism.
Kelly Wong was in sparkling form playing Roman Candle; his transformation from rude bully to sensitive softie as Selfish Giant was entirely convincing (if only more real-world brutes might see the error of their evil ways—even Wilde’s genius couldn’t prevent his downfall at the hands of ignorant “leaders”).
Those lucky enough to see this production will—as Wilde, no doubt, intended—come away feeling better about themselves and filled with hope that—with more acts of random kindness and tolerance—the planet just might become a friendlier place. JWR