Light Entertainment: The Neverending Story Lit Up The Stage

img_8850This was the play I was the most excited to see this theatre season.  Not only did the promotional poster look fantastic, but how can you go wrong with The Neverending Story?  Although I only saw the movie once or twice in my adolescence, I have fond memories of watching the cartoon on tv. This play was based more on the book, but I knew that wouldn’t effect my enjoyment of the story. And I was really excited to see how the team behind this piece would be executing the more outrageous fantasy elements of the play.

img_8849But then, disappointment struck: I learned that the play was going to be directed by Jillian Keiley.  The first time I saw her work at the National Arts Centre, I was blown away by her work.  I continued to be blown away until a few years ago when her artistic style no longer held my attention the way it once had.  Her creative choices started to feel like gimmicks, and I grew more and more disappointed with the shows she was directing.  I even walked out of Colony of Unrequited Dreams a few years ago because I just really did not enjoy her take on the story. But a part of me has always hoped that maybe Keiley’s work would return to what it once was.  I hoped that maybe the past few years were simply an artistic slump.  And it looks like maybe I was right.  The Neverending Story was on par with all of the plays I had enjoyed from Keiley’s earlier years at the NAC, and I was thrilled to see her do justice to this fantastic tale.

img_8847Although the costumes for this play were fun and creative, they were still fairly simple – except for the dress of the Childlike Empress.  Normally, in a fantasy-based production like this, I would expect the costumes to be over the top and utterly spectacular, but they really didn’t need to be.  That’s because the puppets stole the show.  There were so many fantastical creatures in this story –  many of them were portrayed by puppets and it made sense to do so.  And these puppets were phenomenal!  They were all colourful and lit up so that they shone on stage.  The only puppet that was a bit of a disappointment was Falkor.  All of the other puppets were so spectacular that I was expecting the Luck Dragon to really steal the show.  Unfortunately, he barely looked like a dragon, and his overall appearance was really underwhelming.  Compared to some of the other puppets he shared scenes with, he looked unfinished.

img_8848Before we even entered the theatre, there was a gorgeous, glittery book case in the lobby that people could take their pictures with.  After admiring the intricate details of the bookcase, I was expecting grandiose sets when I entered the theatre.  What I saw was just the opposite.  The entire stage was all plain, bare, and black.  For scenes that took place in the real world, the set pieces that appeared were modest and simple.  For the scenes in the story book world, there really weren’t any set pieces at all.  This was a brilliant decision because this play did not need set pieces.  Not only was the stage filled with various kinds of puppets throughout the show, but there was light EVERYWHERE.

img_8845In the Artistic Director’s Notes section of the programme, Jillian Keiley describes her artistic interpretation of The Nothing and how light is the opposite of this dark force.  Given that The Nothing slowly swallows up the stories of the Neverending Story throughout the course of the play, the choice to fill the stage with lots of light makes lots of sense.  As characters die and stories end, their light fades. When there is life all around, there is light all over the stage.  Many of the puppets even had lights within them.  The use of lighting in this play was so unbelievably brilliant that I’m not sure I could properly describe how spectacular everything looked.  Based on lighting designer Leigh Ann Vardy’s theatre credits, I knew the lighting in this play would be well done, but this was even better than I could have imagined.

I had been looking forward to seeing this play ever since the 2019/2020 English Theatre Season was announced – was it worth the wait? Yes! Although I’ve been disappointed with the past few plays directed by Jillian Keiley, after seeing her artistic interpretation of The Neverrending Story, I am actually looking forward to seeing what she will do next.  And, of course, I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the 2019/2020 English Theatre Season has in store.

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