by Lynn on March 9, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Where the Wild Things Are

At Young People’s Theatre, Studio, Toronto. Based on the book by Maurice Sendak. Originally adapted for the stage by Carol Healas and the TAG Theatre, Glasgow. Directed by Kim Selody. Designed by Linda Leon. Composed and sound design by Cathy Nosaty. Lighting by Bradley A. Trenaman. Starring: Raes Calvert and Linda A. Carson.

Produced by Presentation House Theatre and plays at Young People’s Theatre until March 30.

It’s such an education seeing theatre with a room full of young people. In this case I figure the kids were five to eight years old. They came with their schools, their teachers, and perhaps parents as helpers. They were a mosaic of colour, nationality and diverse ethnicity. When the production began, the Narrator (Linda A. Carson) held up Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, and asked who had read it and almost every hand went up. Astonishing.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (written in 1963) is a story of adventure and the imagination of Max,  a lively, rambunctious, impish kid who gets into trouble, but doesn’t mean it. He had ignored his mother’s instructions to pay attention, knocked over the milk and made such a mess she sent him to his room without any supper. He was so mad at her he planned to run away, or make that sail away in his little boat and into great adventures, and he did, but not before his bedroom miraculously became a jungle.  He met wild things that were scary but he managed to tame them.  He became a king with servants and a crown and throne and cape and a sceptre. And when he realized he missed his mom, he rowed home to his room, where she brought him some milk and dinner.

Sendak’s book was then adapted for the stage by Carol Heala and TAG Theatre, Glasgow. And adapted again for Canadian audiences by Presentation House Theatre. It is meant to be interactive between the two performers, the children who come to see the show and the adults who bring them.

The kids sit on three coloured areas which the Narrator calls “islands” that are very close to the playing area. The adults sit in chairs behind the kids and along the back and side walls of the theatre. The rules are established immediately for the children. They are to sit comfortably on their islands and don’t stray. They will be asked to participate but are not to ‘go wild.’

The Narrator sits on a large colourful box with door, talking to the audience, but the box keeps tipping, as if there is something in the box that wants to get out. This happens several times until the narrator has to look in the box to see what is happening. There is nothing there. She is then interrupted again by Max, in a polar bear costume. Max is late. He joins the kids on an island. He is excitable. He interrupts. His mother appears wearing black rimmed glasses. She’s not happy. She sends Max to his room. And the story begins.

As the Narrator, Linda A. Carson is respectful, enthusiastic, supportive and attentive. When she asks a child a question her face is in a bright smile. When she selects a child to ask, she says “yes” in expectation and she indicates the child she is talking to by holding out her whole hand gently, and not with a pointing finger—a huge difference.

A jungle appears in Max’s room. Huge flowers push through the walls. Trees are re-arranged. The whole audience is invited to jump up and give their best impersonation of something fearful. Masks of wild things are passed around to all those in attendance and expected to participate when asked. A rope appears miraculously and we all thread it through the rows of kids and then hang it on hooks at the back, or we adults at the back just hold it over our heads until we are done. Just as efficiently we all thread it back to the stage when it’s time to clean up the place and return Max’s room to the way it was.

As Max, Raes Calvert is excitable, sweet and innocent. All the impishness of Max is in that lovely performance. As the end the children are invited to come and look at the magic box as long as they are accompanied by an adult. The ground rules to the children are clear and so is the respect the performers have for their audience. Wonderful.


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