WFP Review: Comet In Moominland

Fantasy adventure a delight for all

Puppet story transports audiences into spectacular miniature world

Winnipeg Free Press Theatre Review • Randall King
Comet in Moominland • Manitoba Theatre for Young People
To Oct. 28 • Tickets $20 and $23
★★★★★ stars out of five

In what is usually the stage space of the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, you are invited to sit in the middle of the floor while the action of the play Comet in Moominland literally unfolds around you beneath a canopy.

Call it theatre in the round at its most literal.

The story is based on an epic fantasy adventure by Finnish author Tove Jansson, adapted by Graham Whitehead and created by Whitehead, Leslee Silverman (who directs) and designer William Chesney.

The show employs the lexicon of child’s play to tell the story with toy-sized characters wielded by actors David Warburton and Jennifer Lyon on detailed miniature table-top sets.

The hero is Moomintroll, an adventurous young Moomin who resembles a cartoon hippo. At play in a cave with his kangaroo-esque friend Sniff, Moomintroll notices a comet design — a star with a tail — that crops up again and again in what might be an omen of impending disaster.

Self-described neighbourhood philosopher Uncle Muskrat claims they are indeed signs that the end of the world is close at hand, courtesy of an apocalyptic comet. So, Moomintroll and Sniff take it upon themselves to take a raft to a far-off mountain observatory, where scientists are collating all the data on this great impending doom.

Along the way, the friends encounter allies, including the winsome Snork Maiden (a love interest for Moomintroll) and a benign elderly lady who runs a handy general store. Threats include a glitter-eyed cave dragon, a Moomin-eating bush and a voracious octopus, all puppeteered by Shawn Kettner.

Kids were fascinated by set designer William Chesney’s miniatures. At a Thursday morning school performance, it was heartening to see the kids (it’s recommended for children five and older) “ooh” and “ahh” with the unveiling of each new set.

Children’s entertainment tends to play big these days in movies, games and on video screens depicting vast CGI worlds. It’s delightful to see kids fascinated by Chesney’s gorgeous miniatures, all enhanced by the vivid lighting design of Bill Williams. It signals the creators of the adaptation were correct in their concept: tiny characters and sets hit the kids where they live, specifically when they’re engaged in simple play.

The story, too, is appropriate for these unsettled times. Jansson wrote her story in the aftermath of the Second World War and one has a sense of the realm of the Moomin being gently employed to explain the concept of disaster in a safe and sensitive way.

Onstage, that job falls to Lyon and Warburton, who between them maintain an almost parental composure throughout, although Lyon delights when she assumes the character of Silk Monkey, a mischievous, anarchic little character whom she voices with just a touch of demented glee.

Comet in Moominland is a gem from MTYP’s repertoire. Even for adults, it’s worth the hour of sitting on the floor.

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Twitter: @FreepKing