Wilde Tales with a sweet ending
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — Oscar Wilde ostensibly wrote his small trove of fairy tales for children. You’d be forgiven, however, for thinking these sophisticated little tales were truly meant for the inner child of adult readers.
So, it’s not surprising I suppose that playwright-actress Kate Hennig’s collection of these stories, fashioned into an imaginative little play is appealing to adults in its present incarnation as lunchtime entertainment at the Shaw Festival.
The stories; “The Remarkable Rocket,” “The Selfish Giant,” “The Happy Prince and Other Tales,” and “The Nightingale and the Rose,” are strung together by snatches of music, a waving banner with titles scrawled on it and the use of delightful puppets that give the production a sweet, sophisticated sense of what you might call charm.
A small, versatile company of actors plays various roles in these sometimes tender, sometimes tough visions of life, suggesting the way fate and serendipity can outfox us all.
Hennig never presses in her desire to give these stories narrative life onstage.
And she never talks down to the children in her audience, preferring instead that they come to Wilde’s colourful characters with curiosity, finding in them connections to their own world of the imagination.
These characters are sometimes pompous and full of ego. “The Remarkable Rocket,” for instance, is a dreamer who struggles to fly into the darkness of outer space, but sputters instead into a hopeless world of failure.
Then there are other dreamers who may never find the happy endings they desperately desire, but aspire to them anyway. Some, like The Happy Prince, give up important things to help others, only to be squished by the world.
In all of Wilde’s stories there is an underlying thread of darkness rising to the surface suggesting something of the pain of his own troubled life.
A genius playwright who created some of the wittiest comedies in English theatre, his “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” and “An Ideal Husband” remain penetrating looks at relationships.
Not surprising then that these same relationships are explored on an entirely different level in the fairy stories that make up “Wilde Tales.”
The work is tender and enchanting, with Jennifer Goodman’s often humorous costumes and John Gzowski’s original music adding aural and visual magic of their own.
Director Christine Brubaker moulds her cast — a number of them young Shaw Festival members — into a cohesive unit. Jonathan Tan, Sanjay Talwar and Emily Lukasik are delightful throughout.
There is some small audience participation with children waving flowers, sprinkling petals and providing tiny starlike lights.
I’m not sure how steeped in theatre and literature a child would have to be to grasp everything in this little gem of a show.
Some things might be a lot to embrace for little folks weaned on faster-paced TV shows. And there are moments of sadness along the journey to the play’s sweet ending.
If you are looking for raucous entertainment, with youngsters encouraged to holler out comments and suggestions, then “Wilde Tales” may not be for you. But if you’re looking for something that asks a lot more of children and adults, Hennig’s take on Wilde’s fairy tales will be the very thing.
Like Wilde himself, these little stories suggest we take a chance on dreams, even when they sometimes fail us sadly.
Sanjay Talwar as Remarkable Rocket, Kelly Wong as Roman Candle and Jonathan Tan as Worker in “Wilde Tales” at the Shaw Festival.
Emily Lukasik as Nightingale in “Wilde Tales.”