Fantasy is Alive In Stratford’s The Neverending Story

The-Neverending-Story_Stratford-Festival_-Emily-CooperStratford is known for its world-class theatre and every year the lineup is different, so there is something for all ages to enjoy. Going on our honeymoon after celebrating an 80’s inspired wedding was perfect because of two very special shows at the theatre this year; The Neverending Story (1984 release) and Little Shop of Horrors (1986 release). Let’s look at The Neverending Story in this review.

If you were born in the 80’s, The Neverending Story probably holds a special place in your heart. Maybe it was your connection to Artax the Horse or the sweetness of Falcor the Luck Dragon. Perhaps it was even the empathy felt for Bastian losing his mother at a very young age and only left with fleeting memories.

It was quite interesting to see this production and to learn about the lengthy time it took to bring a tale like this to life on stage. The story highlights the innocence, bravery and imagination that lies in each one of us. There was a fantastical feel from the set design, especially with the creative puppetry undertaken by so many talented people.  Also the music was incredible and fit the whole mood and style that I think Franklin Brasz, the Director of Music was trying to convey from the original music by Hawksley Workman.

The gnomes Urgl and Engywook surprisingly stood out for me the most. They reminded me in a lot of ways of Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie, from The Princess Bride.  Maybe it was the banter back and forth or just that underlying love they had for each other.  I also thought the scene of Bastian running from his school bullies was thrilling, from the lighting to the puppetry of car lights in action.

My criticisms are few, but I would have liked a bit more from The Childlike Empress played by Mamie Zwettler. I felt she was a bit of an afterthought.  Also there is a lot of times where the emotion doesn’t quite capture the moment and then it is rushed off to a completely different scene. I think the pacing could have been focused on more.

Overall, the visual nature of the play was wonderful.  The details that weren’t present in the movie version (like the talking, wisdom-filled Artax the horse) added another level to the fantastical experience that I believe will continue to evolve for generations to come and the beauty of knowing that our imagination is limitless when we tell our own Neverending Story.

The Neverending Story runs in The Stratford Festival’s Avon Theatre until Nov. 3. For more visit: www.stratfordfestival.ca.

Photo: The Neverending Story – photo by Emily-Cooper