Doggie tale more than child’s play — MTYP production teaches youngsters life has ups and downs
A product of the Australian theatre company The Last Great Hunt, Manitoba Theatre for Young People’s new touring show, New Owner, tells a modest, wordless story in outsize, grand style.
More than just a shaggy-dog story, it represents within its modest production an impressive expansion of theatre language, incorporating as it does projection, animation, mime, mask and puppetry. The show is done in the same style as TLGH’s 2017 touring show It’s Dark Outside, a boldly stylized tale of an old man, afflicted by dementia, on the run from a nursing home. (The appearance of a little puppet dog in that show was such a hit with audiences, it inspired this full-length doggie adventure.)
Front and centre here is a scruffy white terrier named Bart, puppeteered and impressively vocalized by Chloe Flockart. We see Bart rescued from an animal shelter by a lonely old widow named Mabel (performed by Flockart’s performing partner Rachael Woodward), still in mourning for her recently departed husband.
Bart and Mabel are forced to adapt to one another in the show’s early scenes, which include Bart negotiating his way into an optimal sleeping arrangement in Mabel’s bed, despite the old lady’s best efforts to keep the dog on the floor.
Alas, Mabel loses Bart during an evening walk when the pooch is terrified by an unexpected thunderstorm. Thus begins a new hardscrabble chapter to this dog’s life, in which he finds ways to survive on the city’s streets, with assistance from another lost, streetwise pooch with a distinctive low-pitched bark, puppeteered by Woodward.
The show is recommended for kids aged eight and older, understandably; it does have some potentially upsetting turns of plot, including Bart’s canine buddy being seized by a menacing adult figure. (This only spawns a delicious rescue scene in which Bart is obliged to demonstrate near-border collie levels of cunning in coming to the aid of his friend.)
As in It’s Dark Outside, the show admirably pushes the envelope when it comes to requiring its juvenile audience to deal with tragic elements. Too often, children’s theatre is excessively sanitized for the protection of its young audiences.
Maybe it’s a tough Australian ethos at work here, but TLGH seems more than willing to take on more challenging turns of plot in order to let the kids know that even happy endings aren’t without a pang of poignance.
by Randall King, Winnipeg Free Press