Review: Munschtime! (Young People’s Theatre)

Young People’s Theatre’s play brings the stories of Robert Munsch to the Toronto stage

With a pair of seven-year-olds and a stalwart spirit I ventured to Young People’s Theatre on a sunny Saturday for their new show Munschtime! Adapted from four classic Robert Munsch tales by longtime YPT director Allen MacInnes and collaborator Steven Colella. The stories are framed by a granddaughter who keeps asking for just one more story and her grandparents who, of course, indulge her. I wasn’t ready for another after the show on Saturday, but I liked the ones I got just fine.

Here I should probably confess: I am sometimes a little exhausted by Robert Munsch, especially the newer stories. Stanley and Ella, my seven-year-old company are both big fans, though, and didn’t mind at all converting a hangout afternoon to a theatre excursion when the Munsch name was invoked.

The set has clean lines and few frills, though it does everything it needs to do and then some, from pigpen to ice floe. The four stories are acted out by the same three actors – Lisa Nasson (who plays “the kid” in most of the stories and who has an authentically childlike quality that I appreciated), Dov Mickelson and Cheri Maracle, who make an appealing Grandma/Grandpa pairing as well as doing great work in their other scenes.

I most appreciated the actors’ choices to really commit to each new part entirely. Sometimes in similar situations, what you get is a version of “Dov plays Grandpa playing some other people,” self-referential and self-conscious that the audience knows it’s the same guy that was wearing the cardigan five minutes ago talking about teeth-brushing. None of this trio got caught in that trap, and I liked the play-pretend feeling that resulted (so did the kids).

A Promise is a Promise is based on an Inuit folktale about Qallupilluit, who is said to grab children off the sea ice if they’re by themselves. If your small human is easily scared or dislikes high-anxiety stories (as mine does) you may want to prep with them before by reading the book or telling the story together. None of the other stories is scary (though by the time we got to Murmel, Murmel, Murmel – which is…not among my Munsch favorites – I was shifting in my seat anyhow). Costume designer Sage Paul earned whatever they pay her on the Qallupilluit costume alone, which was grand and greedy and insinuating.

Overall, this is a fun, easygoing kids performance and an easy way to introduce a young theatergoer to the concept – by seeing a storybook they enjoy come to life. It suits the age group well, doesn’t demand a great deal of attention span, and provides a satisfyingly whimsical experience. Grown persons should be advised that, unlike Disney and similar things, there are no quips or jokes pitched for the adults in the audience to enjoy a private grin over while the kids enjoy their folktale – Munschtime! is just what it says on the tin, Young People’s Theatre, and a solidly pleasing example of it to boot.

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photo of Cheri Maracle (L) and Lisa Nasson by Cylla von Tiedemann

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