The 2 act production of J.R.R Tolkien's "The Hobbit" by Company Skylark's puppeteers is, in a word, wonderful.
The puppeteers have done a masterful job of translating Tolkien's broad ranging,
and somewhat poetic, canvas to the stage.
The performance that I saw was in the company of several friends, and my 9-year-
old son and 13-year-old daughter. Both the children have had The Hobbit read to them
as younger children by their frenzied Tolkien fan father. Subsequently (and maybe in
spite of my reading) they have read, or started to read, the LOTR. As such they both
have a strong set of imagery relating to the setting and action of Middle-Earth. They
were both extremely happy with the results they saw on stage.
Bilbo, Thorin and Company, The Goblin King and his 'nasties', Throndor and the
Eagles of the Misty Mountains, William Huggins and this two obnoxious companions,
the Elven king of the Green Wood and of course, ol' Smaug the Magnificent are all
fantastic puppets. That very word 'puppets' tends to conjure an image of small, shaky,
stilted and 'wooden' figures which are awkwardly manipulated by human hands for the
entertainment of young children. THESE puppets however are large, expressive, fluid
creations, moved with finesse and filled with emotion and character. And they are
used for the entertainment of young, old and young at heart children.
Each of the characters has some very elegant idiosyncrasies. Bilbo's initial fear
at the prospect of being swept away on some 'nasty, horrible' adventure is keenly felt,
as is his mounting excitement as the Dwarves discuss the Kingdom under the Mountain.
Bilbo truly deserves the tag of "an excitable little fellow". Thorin has just that
right amount of pomposity and self-importance that Tolkien described. The trolls are
gruff, argumentative, rude and have some very antisocial habits which the children
(and most of the adults) found extremely funny. The Wood Elves are cool, aloof, some-what
condescending and their costumes ethereal enough for anyone.
The stage production has, by necessitity, contracted certain elements of the book
into a quick series of vignettes. Thorin and Company's journey through the horrors of
Mirkwood, from the entrance on the West side of the Wild up to the encounter with the
Spiders, is cleverly done with a series of spotlighted highlights behind the semi
transparent special effects curtain. The creeping watchfulness of Mirkwood is beautifully
portrayed by the voices of the Company coming from a darkened stage, while evil red and
green eyes peer menacingly out at the audience. The 'Ol Tomnoddy...' spider scene with
Bilbo and a truly inspiring giant spider was excellently done.
Some elements of the book that I did not think would be in the stage play,
particularly with puppets, were present, much to my delight. Without giving anything
away...yes you will 'see' Bilbo go invisible before your very eyes. And the music of
Thorin and Co's "Over the Misty Mountains cold, to caverns deep ..." was perfect.
Gandalf, played by Henri Szeps, is one of several "human" actors portraying parts
in the production (others being Bard of Dale, Elrond Half-Elven and some helpers).
Gandalf acts as both part of the drama on stage, and at appropriate times as narrator.
This narration is necessary to give the expositional elements of the play as there is a
lot of material to cover in 2hours 15min. Gandalf displays just the right amount of
magic to have the younger children 'oooing and aahing'.
Smaug the Magnificent is really magnificent. As other reviewers have noted he is
enough to scare many in the audience stiff in their seats!
If there was one criticism of the production it would have to be some of the
pronunciations. (Heads up to the experts that PJ has/is consulting with.) These
were not great 'mistakes' and the majority of audiences would not even notice,
only old sad Tolkien fans like me. However they did grate on the nerves occasionally.
Over all I thoroughly recommend that when you have a chance to see this
production..do so! And it may awaken in you the desire to once again leave home
one morning all in a rush without your pocket-handkerchief.