Playful and Sweet Monsters at HTYP

keelin jack & andrea dymond

The Monster Under The Bed is Halifax Theatre For Young People’s first play for younger audiences, and it is a playful and sweet one that will be filling Alderney Landing Theatre with giggles until October 28th, 2012.

Ben is eight years old and his father has recently be deployed to a far-away conflict and entrusted him with a pair of binoculars (or ‘noculars, as Ben calls them) with the idea that he can look into them and catch a glimpse of Dad while he is away. When his friend Vince steals the ‘noculars Ben becomes afraid to go to school and face him. He ends up hatching a plan with the young monster under his bed, Luca, sending her off to school in his place to eat Vince and restore the ‘noculars.

British playwright Kevin Dyer has written a fun script here where the ever hungry (and exuberant) Luca tries desperately to fit in at school while Ben is left to contend with her Monster Dad in the world of forgotten rubbish under the bed at home. Simon Henderson plays Ben as a sensitive and thoughtful child, with quick instincts and a strong sense of self reliance. He gives Ben a wonderful depth and specificity that allows him to rise far above the fact that Henderson is an adult playing a child allowing him to live on his own plane of existence. Keelin Jack plays Luca swinging between heartbreaking vulnerability of spirit and a wild, infectious happiness. Henderson and Jack mirror one another nicely. It is suggested that Ben and Luca have almost grown up like twins, although separately, one above and one under the bed, even sharing the same “Comfy” special blanket at night time. I wanted to see more of them playing together as it is clear that together they would make a formidable and imaginative team.

Tessa Mendel’s direction is at its most glorious in the interactions between Ben and the Monster Dad, played by Christian Murray, who has almost entirely transformed into a character out of The Muppets. Henderson and Murray play so effortlessly together in their scenes, whether chasing each other, playing with toy soldiers or drawing out secrets, there is always a perfect mixture of real emotional depth and vivacious physicality under the bed and it is magnetic to watch.

Things are a little more challenging at school because while Jack’s Luca is grounded in a firm sense of individuality and emotional depth, unafraid of a little bit of subtly, the rest of the characters in the outside world are not. Griffin McInnes’ Vince swings between being so bland that one wonders why Ben is afraid of him to being so ruthlessly malicious that one wonders why Ben is friends with him at all. McInnes hits his stride well at the very beginning and very end of the play when Vince and Ben are friends with one another and his dynamic with Henderson when fighting an epic, imaginary multi-weapon duel is perfect. Overall, Vince just needs a little consistency and a little balance. Andrea Dymond plays a gigantic caricature of a stereotype of a little girl as the wildly annoying Celine who feels a bit like “one of these things is not like the other” in relation to the far more subdued portrayals of Ben, Vince and even Luca.

Much of the silliness at school comes from the fact that although Luca and Ben are not even the same species (Luca even has a tail!) she passes for Ben at school wearing only his t-shirt and his glasses. Yet, there are a few aspects of Dyer’s script that seem a bit too contrived to me such as how Ben’s mother conveniently walks “Ben” through the route to school, one that he presumably would know by heart by third grade. Also, I would have liked to see Luca having to invent far more reasons for “Ben’s” odd behaviour rather than the other characters just accepting blindly that he’s suddenly gone completely berserk. I also found it odd that Dyer has Ben and Monster Dad speaking to one another at at least a third-grade level while Ben’s mother (and sometimes also his teacher) speaks to him in baby talk. This may be a commentary on how oblivious adults can be in their interactions with children, but in this context it just seems inconsistent with the world of the play.

In all, however, there are a lot of very silly moments and some very endearing ones as well as Ben and Luca learn about the power of friendship and kindness and facing the fear of the unknown. Nathan Bassett has created a very fun set with lots of nooks and crannies for monsters and shadows to pop in and out of and there is good use of projections and shadow by Nick Bottomley to create the world around the bed.

Don’t be scared, even the littlest children will delight in the earnest sweetness of the monsters under Ben’s bed.    

Halifax Theatre For Young People’s production of The Monster Under The Bed plays at Alderney Landing Theatre (2 Ochterloney Street, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) October 24-27th at 7:00pm, October 27 and 28th at 2:00pm and October 26th at 10:00am. Tickets are $10.00 (Child/Youth), $15.00 (Adult) or only $40.00 for a family of four (!). For more information or to book your tickets please call 1-888-311-9090 or visit this website. 

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