Short reviews: THE WEE FESTIVAL

by Lynn on May 19, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Wee Festival: Theatre and Culture for Early Years, May 16-23, 2016.

At various venues.

The Wee Festival is an international festival of nine plays/productions for young children between the ages of 0 and 5 years old, depending on the production. The festival is produced by the wonderful Theatre Direct and its equally wonderful artistic director, Lynda Hill.

Some tell their story wordlessly for the most part. Some tell their story verbally. The worlds of wonder, creativity, art, spoken word, mime and music are introduced to the young audiences with a mix of imagination, respect, adventure and whimsy. The following are short reviews of what I’ve seen so far.


At the Wychwood Theatre, 601 Christie Street.

For children 2-5 years.

The performance starts in the lobby outside the theatre. A smiling man wearing a hat traces the outline of his hat with chalk on the floor in front of the children. He asks a child to put his/her foot in the traced outline and then traces that foot in chalk. Each child is invited to say his/her name into a microphone. If they are shy, they are respected and are not urged to give their name. We follow a trail of bits of paper into the theatre.

Another man of the company stands by a board and his outline is traced by the first man. Some parts were not traced. That needs attention. More hats are traced on the floor and the two performers (another plays the piano) take turns hopping from one traced shape to another. There are several hats on the floor, each filled with sand. The sand is carefully, artfully poured from the hat onto the floor. The two men trace shapes in the sand with their hands, feet, a tube and a broom. The children are mesmerized. The final component of the piece is the children. They are invited to play in the sand and make their own shapes. At this point no one is too shy to participate.

The show is charming, showing ways of taking ordinary things and making them fun and extraordinary. It pricks the child’s creativity.

Produced by the Helios Theatre Company, Germany.

Plays until May 20, 2016.



At the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, 30 Bridgeman Ave.

For children 6-36 months.

A violinist and a singer take the audience on a journey of discovery. A large round structure is in the middle of the playing area. It is covered in a textured soft material. When the show begins, both the violinist and the singer smile at every single child and adult in the room. They make direct eye contact and wordlessly make everybody feel welcome.

The covering is carefully removed and there is an empty nest. The two (women) musicians manipulate the head and hands of a female mannequin who looks off into the distance, waiting for birds to use the nest. The musicians use inventive props to tell the wordless story. Their thumbs fit into holes in a slender wood structure, while their fingers splay out and flutter. Voila, a bird in flight, several in fact. Two birds use the nest and produce eggs that will become the next generation. When the birds are born they try to fly; fall and try again. Soon enough they will leave the nest. The woman watching the nest is wrapped in a blanket at this point, watching the mature birds and their young ones fly away. The children are then invited into the nest to play.

These very young children are totally focused on the two performers as they sing, play instruments, create birds and other things with the simplest of props and tell the story. Totally engaging.

Produced by Theater de Spiegel, Belgium

Plays until May 22, 2016.



At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W.

For children 2-5 years.

Pekka is a turtle who loves bedtime stories as told by his friend Jacinta. But Jacinta tells Pekka that he can’t have a story yet as it’s not night time and the moon isn’t in the sky. So Pekka goes in search of the moon. The journey takes Pekka to talk to the sun; to meet a weasel, a dragon fly; and to go deep into the ocean when he does finally find the moon hiding in a shell.

The story is told by a masterful puppeteer named Isabelle, who creates Pekka with his head on her fingers and his shell wrapped around her wrist. She pulls the sun from a secret place on the set and then parks it for safekeeping in a pocket in the curtain behind her. Various ‘characters’ are pulled from pockets in her black skirt. With one unravelling the black skirt becomes iridescent blue and thus the ocean is created. The storytelling and the artistry are wonderful.

Produced by Le Théâtre des Petites Âmes, Quebec

Plays until May 19, 2016.


Under A Different Light

At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W.

For children 4+ years.

The man and woman who make up the company are charming, agile and creative. The story is about opening doors and letting dreams come in, but I think that might have been a bit esoteric. The beauty of the show is the many images that can be created by light. The couple hold short wands with lights at the tip and pretend to throw the light from one wand to another. As the throw is made, the light on the wand being thrown goes out and the person catching the light instantly turns on his/her wand to illuminate it. Beautifully effect. Small impish lights are used at times. Lights seem to float in mid-air. A back curtain seems to come alive with illumination. The show could be shortened without any damage done to its effectiveness.

La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi, Italy

Plays until May 19, 2016.

Jumping Mouse

At the Pia Bowman Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 6 Noble Street.

For children 4+ years.

This was the one production of the five I’ve seen so far that is not a success. The premise is to use indigenous folk tales and myths to tell the story of a curious mouse who wants to go on an adventure to the top of the mountain. The mouse is fearful of eagles and is befriended by a buffalo who offers to protect it. Several head masks are used to create the various animals and they are terrific as are the costumes.

What is a disappointment is the structure of the story—it’s too rambling and needs tightening. Also the company of four actors seem inexperienced and either bellow everything or in one case, mumbles and talks in a voice so soft it is hard to make out what is being said. The audience will tell you how well you are doing—they will be silent. This audience fidgeted and thumped the floor with their feet. They were not amused.

Produced by Urban Indigenous Theatre, Manitoba.

Plays until May 19, 2016.

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