An eco-aware theatrical production return’s to Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre
Eco-awareness is everywhere – in our 5c plastic shopping bags and our reusable water bottles. The movie Hunger Games, pitting kids against kids, has given us a nasty take on childhood drama. And flying is ubiquitous: it’s no longer surprising to see actors soaring across the stage.
Which makes remounting Blue Planet a challenge. How do you go beyond the accolades? How do you engage a young audience that’s spending more and more time online and less and less in the real world?
In as much as I can recall the 2005 production (which I loved), Young People’s Theatre has chosen to answer the call by remounting a version that’s more minimalistic.
A glowing blue orb high up on the catwalk signals the arrival of something extra-terrestrial, but there’s no spaceship. There are some glowing lights, smoke, and a high-tech-looking eyeball, but most of the 75-minute performance is left to the imagination. This is theatre in the mind.
While back in 2005 YPT’s construction of flying contraptions was considered a feat, this time YPT turned to Flying by Foy, “the most prolific and widely-respected theatrical flying service in the world.”
It all looks so easy. The actors just click themselves into their apparatus and fly. But because the handles don’t blend into the backdrop, we lose the illusion. And flying when you know it’s not real takes away from, well, the magic.
Blue Planet is the story of a faraway planet inhabited only by kids. The kids happily do as they please, tracking butterflies, dreaming of flying, and doing whatever else we imagine kids did for fun in the pre-Internet age.
Then Jolly Goodday, the vacuum salesman, shows up. Goodday tips the kids’ world upside down by offering to make their fantasies real in exchange for a few, tiny drops of youth.
You can guess what that leads to. The kids age and environmental disasters ensue. There’s a scene of helping helpless victims since the kids have had Goodday pin the sun to the sky and the other side of the planet has no light.
But somehow the drama wasn’t convincing and I got confused. My companion, who’s smack dab in the middle of the target grade four-to-eight group, wondered why the actors were acting as if they were addressing a younger audience. She thought the performance would be more appropriate for our Senior Kindergaten neighbour, eco-topic notwithstanding.
In his program notes, Allen McInnis, artistic director of YPT and also the director of this Blue Planet, says “directing Blue Planet in 2005 was one of my most satisfying theatrical projects, ever.”
One wonders whether a remount by the same director was the best idea. Perhaps YPT was stuck in thinking about what the audience loved last time.
The acting didn’t help, either. Rylan Wilkie’s Jolly Goodday was missing the spark to make it believable he could co-opt kids. The costumes were ho-hum, and could grey hair look more fake?
I remain convinced of Snær Magnason’s magnificence. The Story of the Blue Planet is a unique piece of work by one of Iceland’s most celebrated writers and has been translated into 26 languages.
I also remain convinced of the magnificence of YPT. I’m sure they’ll soar again.
– Tickets ($10-$20) can be purchased online or by calling the box office: 416-862-2222