The Neverending Story is this year’s play for children offered by the Stratford Festival. The play and the production project such a wildly imaginary world as to fill and indeed expand your imagination. No doubt the youngsters watching the show have the capacity to imagine and absorb the play. After all it is directed mostly at them. My reaction, affected by my more limited imagination, was “holy cow, I never imagined such wildly imaginary things.”
The play is adapted by David S. Craig based on the novel by Michael Ende and its wildly imaginary and absorbing world is unleashed quite unprepossessingly. A ten-year old boy named Bastian (Jake Runeckles) begs his father (played by Tim Campbell) not to make him go to school. The father insists that he go. Bastian is viciously attacked by three bullies as he tries to make his way to school.
He runs into a bookstore and pleads for shelter from the Bookseller (Roy Lewis) but he demands that Bastian leave. The Bookseller thinks children are good for nothing because they play video games, watch television and never read books. Bastian protests that he loves books, so much in fact that he gets completely immersed in the stories that he reads as if they were real.
Andrew Robinson as Artax the Horse, Qasim Khan as Atreyu, Laura Condlln as Chancellor
of the Ivory Tower and Roy Lewis as Cairon. Photography by Emily Cooper.The Bookseller points to a special book called The Neverending Story which Bastian steals. He ends up in an attic at his school. Alone he starts reading the story and a new world opens for Bastian and the audience. We are transported to Fantastica where we will meet a werewolf, three purple buffalo, the hunter Atreyu and his talking horse Artax, a dragon, a huge spider, gnomes, birds and other creatures.
Some of these creatures are manipulated by actors (think of War Horse), other are played by puppets and we have a kaleidoscopes of colours and a plethora of movements that leave one aghast with admiration at the sheer magnitude of the imagination. As an example Artax the horse is manipulated by six actors handling his head, heart, hind and three for the saddle. Morla the Turtle requires eleven actors and so on.
Atreyu (Qasim Khan) is the hunter who rides the talking horse Artax. Fantastica is in danger because a shadow called Nothing is moving across the land. The Childlike Empress of Fantastica is dying and Atreyu must find a cure or else all will be lost. He sets out looking for Nothing and takes us to more fantastical creatures and situations.
All is done on a dark stage with stars glittering in the sky as the creatures come across in their fantastic shapes and colours. We meet Falkor the Lucky Dragon (Rylan Wilkie) and Ygramul (Laura Condlin), the huge spider. At all times we are aware that Bastian is in the attic reading the book and participating in the events related in the story. He is a part of the story as it is enacted and can influence events. And Bastian meets a character in the book, Atreyu, who is speaking to a character that looks like Bastian and of course it is Bastian. Freaky.
I will not spoil the show for you by giving more details.
Qasim Khan (centre) as Atreyu and Andrew Robinson as Artax the Horse in
The Neverending Story. Photography by Emily Cooper.
All the actors play several roles. Sean Arbuckle plays the werewolf Gmork as well as the Troll and the gnomes Urgl and Engywook. Tim Campbell has three roles in addition to playing Bastian’s father. Laura Condlin is Ygramul the spider and two other roles. Kim Horsman plays Morla, the Elder and Sassafranian Child. Mamie Zwettler play the Childlike Empress and Ryan Wilkie plays Falkor and the Caretaker.
Jillian Keiley directs and Bretta Gerecke has designed this incredible journey into fantasy. It will amaze you, astound you and expand your imagination.
The Neverending Story based on the novel by Michael Ende and adapted for the stage by David S. Craig opened on June 15 and will run in repertory until November 3, 2019 as part of the Schulich Children’s Plays at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford, Ont.
James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. www.greekpress.ca