Review by Danny Gaisin
Disclaimer! As mentioned in our last published critique, this scribe has never, in my octogenarian life, been exposed to J.R.R. Tolkien’s HOBBIT tales. Factually, the only ‘Lord’ books I’ve read have been about “Flies”; not “RINGS”! So, last night’s Theatre Erindale staging of the play was a rare theatrical original experience for yours truly. We and the audience were seated about twenty feet overlooking the stage Thus the actors appear to be numerous vertically challenged dwarves (dwarfs?); goblins; trolls & a dragon. The plot opens with young Bilbo Baggins being recruited to be a burglar by an eight-foot tall wizard named Gondolf.
This persona is an interval appearing influence on the eponymous lead as well as on a large contingent of super energetic support characters.
Seeing as I am a rather small minority of philistines as to my previous knowledge, explicating the plot would be superfluous. So, strictly a critique and given how fascinated we were by everything transpiring on stage…. totally POSITIVE.
The floor of the stage is overdrawn with a map of the Middle Kingdom and clever lighting highlights Bilbo’s progress towards achieving his mission. Set designer Peter Urbanek has exhibited an innate appreciation of the audience’s view and impression in the way that events physically unfold before us. One feels as though one is a fly (or Spider!) on the wall observing the phenomena unfolding below. Lighting (Michael Slater & Peter Unbanek) and sound effects designer Michael Doherty are intrinsic to the overall impression of the viewers’ experience. Certainly noticeable are the incredible & descriptive costumes of Michelle Vanderheyden. From all the above, readers will glean that is definitely a production team achievement. The person most responsible for such an accomplishment is the director, and David Matheson has hit the ball way over the center-field wall. His attention to even the most minute details is obvious and most meticulous. Posturing and body language all underscore the dialogue, especially including the numerous support characters that many of the cast have to portray.
Naturally, it is the Hobbit Bilbo who is almost continually on stage, and Natalie Skov is a standout. Her ability to subtly quantify her characterization of a somewhat naive boy into a maturing and more responsibility-accepting young man is thespianism at its best. Like ‘OG‘ in ‘Finian’s Rainbow’; or La Mancha’s ‘SANCHO PANZA’; the role of Bilbo is one ‘to die For!’
The influencing and pivotal role of GANDOLF is portrayed by a stilted Ben Caldwell, and he is a big a determining factor, psychologically as well as dimentionally. Caldwell’s interpretation is dramatic as well as understated; never a moment of histrionics or ham. There is strong support from Emma Ratcliffe, especially in her ‘Elrond’ portrayal. Another of her noticeable episodes is the dialogue between Bilbo and Ratcliffe’s ‘Gollum’. The energy and physical plasticity she exhibits is exhausting. Also, noticeable is Danielle Wells’ “Thorin”, the well-meaning but pretentious heir to the Middle Kingdom throne.
Then there’s the Dragon. My last week’s informers described him (or her) as smug. Seems it’s actually “Smaug” and enormous seems but a comparative term. Toronto’s Spadina Avenue community would be thrilled to parade him (and his 7 operators) as part of the Chinese New Year celebration. Expressive eyes, huge operational mouth and a full stage-occupying object, it has something to really be ‘smaug’ about!
A bit of trivia; didn’t realize that every time I quote the Bette Midler lyric about someone being ‘The wind beneath my wings’; I was actually quoting Tolkien!. THE HOBBIT is onstage at UTM’s Mist Theatre.