The Neverending Story Delivers An All-Age Fantasy

The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story
University Centre Farquhar Auditorium
University of Victoria
December 12 – 18, 2013

J: Whenever The Neverending Story is mentioned, people will most likely remember the film more than Michael Ende’s book that this play is based off. The film is on many lists of the “Top 100 Family Films of All Time.” It comes as no surprise that David S. Craig was under tremendous pressure to adapt Ende’s work for the stage while staying true to the book. Perhaps it was even equal pressure that Kaleidoscope’s Artistic Director, Roderick Glanville, present a show that both fans of Wolfgang Petersen’s film and their children could enjoy.

In this adaptation, Atreyu (Ayden Turpel-Stewart), a young warrior from the plains, is chosen by Fantastica’s ruler, the Childlike Empress (Emily Van Oosten), to take up a quest to save the land and its people from an enveloping black emptiness called The Nothing. Atreyu seeks the aid of many of the land’s inhabitants to stop The Nothing, but the one person who plays the biggest role is Bastian (Stuart Cameron), a boy from a different world who uses his imagination to keep his loneliness at bay.

E: When vestiges of the movie version were looming in my imagination of how I thought The Neverending Story will be interpreted on stage, the product turned out to be very good. I wondered if the crew had the manpower and skills to pull off a product much like in what the Jim Henson Company did in the third (and terrible) film. Instead, what James and I were treated to was something akin to Kabuki style theatre. I enjoyed it.

J: Although I did fancy the overall product and the style in which it was presented, I will admit the play contained a few unnecessary scenes that only muddled the pace. Craig may be one of the top playwrights in Canada but even he can have his off days.

Stuart Cameron is Bastian Balthazar Bux
Stuart Cameron plays the lead character, Bastian Balthazar Bux.

But the cast deserve praise for putting on such a unique performance under the guidance of Glanville (who directed Kaleidoscope’s previous production of the Rocky Horror Show). My main issue was with the miscasting of Bastian Balthazar Bux. The actor, Cameron, would have been better off as one of the villains. It took me most of the production before I could feel any sympathy for Bux. And to further my point, Cameron was much more physically intimidating than the bullies he was running away from.

There were many stars who shone brightly and I wish more could be mentioned but of the few who I can mention, take note of Ayden Turpel-Stewart who looked the part of Atreyu. He nicely portrayed the balance of the sheer bravery a grown warrior has to present with that of a young boy’s inexperience. Garry Garneau was an imposing Artex, a proud noble steed who was protector, teacher and animal brethren to Atreyu.

Kaleidoscope Theatre's Neverending Story
Ayden Turpel-Stewart plays the enigmatic hunter Atreyu, Bastion’s fantasy self.

On one hand you believed he was Atreyu’s carrier but on the other hand I couldn’t help to liken him to someone’s gym buddy. Other actors of equal strength were the versatile Christopher Mackie (Carl Conrad Coreander and Falkor the Luckdragon). The very elegant and beautiful Childlike Empress Emily Van Oosten and the comedic Gnome duo of Sarah Anne Murphy and Tich Wilson (please read my Rocky Horror Show review to learn why) rounded out my list of favourites.

E: At gazing upon Oosten’s costume and watching her perform, I could not help but think Our Lady of Fátima. That alone should say a lot about how she handled playing her role. During the production, one of the stage managers mentioned she will be going Los Angeles to try her hand at a larger stage and further her acting chops. We at Otaku no Culture wish her nothing but the best.

As for the rest of the cast, I thought Stuart was okay in the role of Bastian. But I could not help but think about other curly-haired misfits in filmdom. Although he did not epitomize Chunk (Jeff Cohen) from The Goonies, I did wonder if some added humour could have helped. And when the main actors were not on stage, I did like how the artistic production team of Glanville, Miles Lowry and Alexander B. Ferguson translated the creatures from story to stage.

Morla, the ancient turtle from the Swamp of Despair, transformed from her component parts to a whole creature much like a combiner bot from Transformers. That was neat to behold. Falkor could have been huge, and done much like a Chinese Dragon is paraded around on sticks, but that creature will always be subject to interpretation — especially when Atreyu has to ride him on stage. But in what I liked the most was in how The Nothing was represented. It was like an approaching chaos, an entropy that would eventually consume Fantastica, and to have the youths dressed in black and writhe about was a perfect interpretation. Although I could not see faces, I liked how that gave the blackness life; some of the kids really got into that performance.

Neverending Story Falkor
The movie version of Falkor.

The other staging elements that I enjoyed was in how the floor space was used and the lighting filled the theatre. The main seating area was blocked off (all the seating was from the balcony level) so “the journey” could be seen as the performers moved from one part of the stage to the other. That also included the performers coming into parts of the balcony to play out some scenes.

J: The shapeshifting character of Ygramul (Sarah Anne Murphy) was very well designed. In the form of a spider, her many legs were actually hornets — they made up a collective hive mind. This was solved on stage by having the same child actors who portrayed the Nothing carry staffs to represent the Ygramul’s long legs. Her costume deserves praise. My hat’s off to the artistic team.

E: Although there was plenty to appreciate about the technical side of the production, the show eventually had to come to an end. There was no break so I advice patrons to go to the washroom first before getting seated. I did not want to miss any bit of the story, especially when it has been so long since I last looked at the film or glanced at the book.

For example, unlike the original tale, I picked up on showing how Bastian came to terms with his estranged Dad. Their loss (the mother unit died) was a catalyst to everything that transpired in this story. As I vaguely recall, the ending is nothing like the book or movie. The play felt like it had to be neatly compacted.

I can forgive what Craig did, because after this show, I did go off in search for my own Neverending Story. That was to look at the film again. It’s no Flight of Dragons when it comes to throwing away imagination and giving way to reason, but at least the tale and its themes told is a good one for students of theatre to study and apply to real life. The Kaleidoscope Theatre chose a great product to cap the year off with.

Note: Kaleidoscope’s next project is to mount the 2nd Annual Family Theatre Festival. Four original shows will be presented by SNAFU Dance Theatre, Theatre SKAM and Kaleidoscope Productions. Shows will be performed May 1 – 4, 2014.

Author: James Robert Shaw

Making a comeback.

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