As the recent surge in popularity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy hits North American culture, Alberta Theatre Projects has a lot to live up to. Sales of J. R. R. Tolkien's books increased massively and the new Lord of the Rings movie is weeks from opening--landing, appropriately enough, right in the middle of ATP's run of its prequel, The Hobbit.
As I was largely unfamiliar with the original text, it was difficult to know what to expect. The general assumptions were still easy to cling onto as the series is a staple of modern culture and fantasy--the usual wizards, magic, elves, dwarfs and dragons were in mind as the lights dimmed.
And, thankfully, that's exactly what I got.
As in the past, ATP's production of The Hobbit is largely billed as a children's production. Complete with singing, physical humour and small but intimate interactions with the audience, it fits that description and succeeds. On another level, however, it's a wonderfully staged performance with quality acting, costumes and set. And for that reason, it will appeal to the oldest, most conservative theatregoer, the youngest child and everyone in between with a kid at heart.
The play follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a simple hobbit who is approached by a wizard, Gandalf. Gandalf entices Bilbo to embark on a mission to steal gold from a guarding dragon. This adventure sees Bilbo fighting off spiders, outsmarting elves and finding a magic ring.
From my limited understanding, the play seems to follow the original text quite closely. It fills in gaps that would normally be explained in Tolkien's narration with a new character, Old Took, who steps in from time to time to help the audience see what they missed. The costumes, set and language are very true to the time and every effort was made to keep the magic and fantasy of the original story in tact.
As the story goes, Bilbo returns from his voyage a new Hobbit, with changed perspectives on life, war and death.
And while you may not have quite a transformation after seeing this performance, you'll leave with a new understanding of Tolkien's classic--perhaps a new version to couple with your own.