The Neverending Story

March Break on Stage!

On Saturday, we went to see The Neverending Story at the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto.  Based on a novel by Michael Ende, and adapted for the stage by David Craig, the play is about a boy and a book and how the characters in the book need the boy to help save them from the Nothing.  The Nothing is a nihilistic force that threatens to destroy all of the stories in Fantastica, where the book is set, but really, it’s the threat of a world without imagination, a world in which children are forbidden to dream, where they are told that stories do not matter.

So far, so up my alley.  The star of the show, I have to say, is the mechanical aspect: costumes and scenery.  There are curtains on stage that are characters in their own right, and the costumes were a delight to behold.  The layers and texture and energy of the costumes added so much to the performances.

The part of the (real world) boy Bastian is played by Natasha Greenblat, and she stole my heart and the show.  Bastian has recently lost his mother, his father’s grief debilitates him, and Bastian is bullied at school to such an extent that he hides in the school attic.  I felt that the other actors hammed it up a bit much, as if thinking that an audience full of children needed that element of attention-grabbing exaggeration.  She, on the other hand, played her part to perfection, never condescending to her young audience.  The message of the play is that books need readers to keep them alive, and that they, in turn, will enrich readers’ lives, and I found that she delivered this message with wonderful grace.

The best part of seeing a performance at the Young People’s Theatre is that there is a Q&A period after the performance.  Children can ask the actors about any aspect of the play and its production.  One child asked, “Is the play real?” and the actor who answered her did so with such respect.  He pointed out that they were actors and the play was a story but that it was a story about real things like grief and bullying and the importance of the imagination.  He told the audience that imagination and the escape that books offer can be the best way to deny bullies power over us.  I think it’s wonderful to have an actor explain that clearly, simply, and with as much passion as he did.

Tickets are a very reasonable $10-$20, about the cost of a movie, and the theatre is such a wonderful part of the arts available to children in the city.  Special show times are on for March Break.