Thursday, 30 December 1999

The Hobbit, Dec 30 1999

adapted by Gilly McInnes with Anketell Theatrical Productions
 at Playhouse, Dec 30 1999 until Jan 16, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you are deeply attached to your own vision of Bilbo Baggins, do not panic. This visual theatre production of Tolkien's The Hobbit should fulfil your dreams.

This return season, which has had money thrown at it by its producers, has higher production values (it looks more expensive) and some new staging of Gilly McInnes' adaptation by director, Christine Anketell.

The story is a classic hero's journey. The Wizard, Gandalf, (Henri Szeps) commandeers the sweet and unlikely Bilbo to accompany dwarves on an adventure to kill Smaug, the dragon, and reclaim the Lonely Mountain for the Dwarf King, Thorin.

This is ideal family entertainment. Even the scary gremlin-like goblin doesn't make littlies cry.

Puppets are cleverly crafted by designer, Philip Millar, and his cluster of puppet makers. Bilbo , Dwarves, Wolves and Gollum are child-size. Wood Elves, and Goblins are adult-size while the Trolls, Eagle and Dragon are enormous.

 Bilbo has a vulnerable, wide-eyed face which captures his naivete, obsession with cake and his courage and integrity when facing of goblins and dragons. Lachlan Haig gives him a wry and child-like personality.

Gollum, the luminous cave-dwelling creature, is given an appropriately creepy existence by Terry Ryan. His hissing and riddling meet all expectations.

The puppeteers, wearing full black outfits, are onstage throughout but become virtually invisible as the magic of the story evolves. They provide voices for characters and most are strong actors.

Henri Szeps, with his resonant voice, is a fine Gandalf. Children and adults alike gasp at his illusions which have been created by magician, Ross Skiffington.

Design is important in this production. Set and costume (Mark Thompson) create a sense of magical, mediaeval time and place. Location and mood are provided by Philip Lethlean's atmospheric lighting design. He creates spooky Mirkwood, flying eagles, pools of Water in Gollum's cave.

Allan Zavod's evocative and eclectic music provides an excellent operatic edge to these epic stories.

There are only a couple of weaknesses. Some of the scene changes are clumsy and the Eagle, which is an actor wearing flapping wings, is awkward compared with the fine illusions of the other creatures.

This is a show worthy of Tolkien's imagination.

by Kate Herbert

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