Review: The Wormwood Prince

Korimander (Darren Turner) and Prince Ash (Chris Murray)

By George Perry

The Wormwood Prince played at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse on the University of Toronto campus. It is being mounted on by the Next Stage Production Company, whose mandate is to nurture emerging actors. I’m not sure if I would describe this play as guerrilla theatre, but I am positive that this was a most enjoyable night out.

The Wormwood Prince is a story about a prince who can’t grow up and sets out to start his own kingdom in a distant land. It was written by Reg Matson and directed by Will Hofstetter. Like all good tales or wines, this one will stay with you and improve with age.

The writing, tone, tempo and delivery by the actors all ooze Shakespeare. Chris Murray, playing Prince Ash, reminded me of Rowan Atkinson’s old Blackadder character. The hermits reminded me of the Greek chorus in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite.

Another strength of this play is that some things are left to the imagination. The stage is home to nothing except the actors and their considerable talents. Instead of painting props, the company paints images with words and acting.

We aren’t able to see the horses, flower gardens or castles that the actors discuss, but we envision them more vividly as a result. Audience members summon their own images and memories. I recalled old Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons, while my partner was reminded of Shrek.

The “Do It Yourself” philosophy of this production is impressive. The costumes appear homemade and some of the trousers appear to be made from curtains. I think this adds a personal touch. I’d like a pair of those pants too! The care and love that my grandmother put into sewing a quilt for me will always be warmer than a store bought designer one. The authenticity and passion of this company is obvious in the same way.

The choreography is amazing. Professional WWE wrestlers have nothing on this company. The swordplay is tremendous. It is also a treat to see terrific gymnastics in person rather than on television. One has to admire the hard work and long hours of rehearsal that made the physicality of this play possible.

There is room for improvement though. While the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse really is a fantastic space, it is also a very hot space. The evening that we saw the play was cool, but the theatre was very warm. It must be unbearable inside when the temperature outside rises. Fans were blowing in an attempt to cool the patrons and actors, but their only real effect was to create an audio distraction.

There’s a line in the play about giving birth to “some sort of weird beast”. Well, I am happy that the weird beast of Next Stage was born, and I look forward to watching it grow and mature.

The Wormwood Prince ran August 25 to 29, 2010 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse in Toronto.