Review: As You Puppet (Hank’s Toybox Theatre)

Shakespeare + stuffed animals = As You Puppet, perhaps the cutest iambic pentameter ever performed, now at the Studio of the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, Toronto

by Jenna Rocca

This Fringe Kids and Best of Fringe 2010 hit joins the LKTYP’s seasonal lineup and brings some serious cuteness to the Bard’s classic comedy As you Like It, and wouldn’t you know, it makes it that much more fun for audience members of all ages.

Watching the performance I was reminded of putting on shows for my little cousins when they were little, using their stuffed animals. This show is additionally inspiring for kids who could then go home and explore puppetry on their own with their toys.

Mike Peterson, using his own style of puppetry, which he calls “table-top,” and Jane McClelland, are Hank’s Toybox Theatre, and they share all the roles and use dozens of variously sized and styled stuffed toys to act out the motions in plain sight. I thought this was a very effective performance style; when the puppets’ faces cannot move, the puppeteers’ can.

McClelland’s performance as Ganymede (our heroine Rosalind in drag) delivers a particularly touching moment when our disguised and exiled heroine can deliver a line to her beloved, who does not not know her true identity, while behind both puppets’ backs the puppeteer can gaze longingly at puppet Orlando.

Additionally fabulous was the casting of the roles. The kind of toy used for a particular role really dictates the voice and tone of the character’s delivery. The clown Touchstone can have a clown-like, Bugs Bunny-esque laugh and gait because he’s a lug of an umbrella-eared wascally wabbit. Adam, the elderly servant is cast as a little non-descript animal-like figure with short limbs, the smallest of the toys, with an equally demure voice.

Don’t think there weren’t many scene changes just because the performers had so much to do with the characters in their hands. There were many. An orchard with tiny apples that the animal could pick delighted the young audience I was with. They were sure to ask about those in the Q & A that followed. There is even a little brook, a swamp (where the frog lives) and a forest.

As simplistic as these sets were (composed almost entirely of cardboard boxes and blankets – key for the Fringe fifteen minute setup and strike allotment) the character’s performances made them as vivid as cinema.

What is truly the ace-in-the-hole of the production is the use of the original iambic pentameter of the text. The show runs just under an hour, so it has been edited (by Peterson) for time, however the words are all Shakespeare’s. This struck me considering that on the LKTYP website the show is only suggested for grades 1-6.

My partner is a high-school teacher and I know he agrees that even 12th graders would benefit from this kind of presentation of the classic text. In fact, adults will also enjoy it (I sure did), which is why I am a little ticked that the performances are only during the day. I’m serious: everyone should see this show. The puppetry alone is just that fantastic.

As you Puppet brings Toronto a really beautiful, unique theatre-style that will mesmerize and entertain anyone with an inner child, a soft spot for cuteness, or an interest in Shakespeare. My only regret is that I do not have a young child of my own to properly expose to Shakespeare in this way.

Details:

As You Puppet is playing at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People at 165 Front Street East

– Performed until April 21st, 2011, weekdays at 10:30 am and 12:45 pm; the final three Sunday April 17th performances are all sold out

– Tickets are $15 – $20

– Call 416 862 2222 or book online at lktyp.ca or email boxoffice@lktyp.ca