I was taken back to my childhood, to a world of blanket forts and enchanting stories, and it was magical.
You don’t often get to experience magic in theatre nowadays. Maybe it’s because I set out with a critical eye, but even so, this kind of theatre is very rare. There are children’s shows aplenty, and HalfWorld was no exception. It was simple in its storyline and structure. But the sophistication of director Scott Parker’s approach and sensitivity in his style made it accessible and enjoyable for an older audience as well.
We entered into the world of Mr. Boy (Corey Willis), which was already such a wonderfully curious name and story in itself. Mr. Boy – a Peter Pan-esque figure – had lost his twin, so the beautiful puppet Moon invited him to visit “HalfWorld”, where all things search for their missing halves.
The blanket fort, once limited to the stage, was drawn over the audience’s heads. From one moment to the next we were all in “HalfWorld”, a magical place of fantastical creatures and, in equal measure, things to fear.
The narrative itself is unassuming, but what writer Robert Den Engelsman is able to do, is tap into the naivety and innocence that we hope still exists inside us, and reveal our inner child. It is exciting and enchanting and you just don’t want to let it go. From the moment that you enter “HalfWorld”, Emily McGowan’s soothing voice as the Moon and her endearing performance as the sheep is a reminder of the world we grew up in.
Designer Aleisa Jelbart captures the spirit of the writing in her puppets and costumes. There are conventional choices for Admiral John (Alice Keohavong) while there are some curious aesthetic spins on the traditional villain, Detective Cortman. The design of Cortman (Thomas Albert) was inspired – evoking a sense of the traditional detective, the bad guy and somehow also making it otherworldly. As one of the funnier characters, the children in the audience felt very comfortable engaging with and provoking him. Albert did well to improvise around the enthusiastic input of some younger audience members – making both scripted and unrehearsed material a good laugh.
But, Nicholas O’Regan stole our hearts as the loveable, unintelligible Oph. The design for this character was once again based on a familiar concept (the big, goofy bear) but was modified to seem entirely new. He was cuddly and warm and we all felt safe when he was around.
But HalfWorld, much like the real world, isn’t all rosy. The They/Them are an evil agency that pursues Mr. Boy and, when warned of their presence, we were encouraged to hide beneath the blankets we were given at the door. There was something so beautiful about 4 year olds and 40 year olds alike hiding under blankets from this terror that threatened the safety of the world we were in. It was the world we all used to live in – that same world that was in the closet, or under the bed – that same sense of fear that used to envelop us all. That world came with good and bad – but it was a world that we loved, and lost as we grew older.
HalfWorld took us back for a night, and it was just the way I remembered it. It swung from lovely to terrifying and then lovely again. This performance was humble and unpretentious and tender and offbeat.
It’s easy to think that the fun and fantastical should be reserved for children, as it often is. But HalfWorld proves that there is something inside all of us, a yearning for another world that is sparkly and whimsical and wild.