Review: Bello (Young People’s Theatre)

Gabriel Gagnon, Nicole St. Martin and Morgan Yamada in Bello at YPTYoung People’s Theatre presents Bello, a folktale with scary moments, on stage in Toronto

On Wednesday afternoon my grandson Desmond and I went to see Bello at Young People’s Theatre. It’s billed as suitable for kids from six to nine years old. Desmond is six years and three weeks old. It was his expert opinion that one of the classes attending the performance was a kindergarten class and that the kids weren’t six yet. They seemed to manage just fine.

Bello is essentially a folktale “about a time when there were no phones, no cars, and no light bulbs…” and a young boy named Bern who gets lost in the snow on his way back from school.

The story is told by three actors — Gabriel Gagnon, Nicole St. Martin, and Morgan Yamada — who are sometimes the narrators and sometimes the characters. The transitions were fast and seamless and the few props they needed were added to the action in interesting ways. I loved the way they tossed buckets to each other.

Playwright Vern Thiessen has incorporated some standard folktale elements into the play. The villagers are all afraid of the ‘witch’ who lives in an abandoned barn outside of the village; Bern’s parents die and he has to live with his aunt and uncle and ten cousins; his cousin Peter is mean to him and bullies him; he gets lost in the forest in a snowstorm.

Of course it all works out in the end but it can be scary for little kids. There were a couple of times that Desmond said in a tiny voice “I want to go home” and a couple of times that he climbed on to my lap.

He didn’t seem as relieved at the ‘happy’ ending as I thought that he would be and had no interest in staying for the questions and answers afterwards. Or in talking about the play.

He did like the cool instruments that made the big wind noise, the thunder, and the creepy sound. So did I.

I also really liked Patrick Beagan’s design. The backdrop looked like a very large cross-stitched picture of an old barn and fields. At one point in the story Bern and Peter walked past a dead tree and the third actor pulled a dead tree made of cloth on to the stage. A couple of minutes later the other actors each pulled another tree out. A little voice in the audience said “More dead trees”.

Three small wooden crates served as beds, a bridge, and a sleigh. A shawl transformed one of the actors into Nettie, the old woman. It was minimal and effective. It reminded me of simple drawings in a children’s book.

I enjoyed Bello but there are definitely things that would have upset me when I was six. Desmond said that he liked it but wouldn’t say anything else. Nothing about what he liked best or didn’t like. He was definitely scared a couple of times. It would have been better if I had told him in advance that there were going to be some scary parts but that everything was going to be alright in the end.

Something to think about when you take your kids.

There are a couple of French language performances and also a couple of relaxed performances. It’s best to check the calendar for dates and times.

Details:

  • Bello is playing until October 20 2017 at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front St East)
  • Showtimes are Tuesday, Wednesday , and Thursday at 10:30am and 1:00pm; Friday (French) at 10:30am; Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm
  • Ticket prices range from $10.00 to $34.00. First Saturday Savings – all tickets $10.00 each. Sunday PWYC – 100 tickets available in person from 10:00am
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.862.2222, and at the box office

Photo of Gabriel Gagnon, Nicole St. Martin and Morgan Yamada by Ali Sultani

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