‘Anne of Green Gables’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by August 23, 2017

‘Anne of Green Gables’ was written in 1908, by the 34 yrs. old Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery OBE. Montgomery was born on Prince Edward Island, where this story is set. Today, Prince Edward’s biggest tourist attraction is still ‘Anne’s Trail’ that takes you around the many places mentioned in the play. Montgomery officially died of a ‘coronary’ in Toronto, but sadly, a note left near her bed suggested that she committed suicide, after having cared for her mentally disturbed husband for many years.

She wrote around a 100 short stories. Montgomery lived to see the wonderful 1934 film of ‘Anne’, but thankfully did not live to see the atrocious TV versions of this beautiful story. This adaption is by Michelle R Davis who was raised on the Canadian Prairies before settling in British Colombia, where she now teaches English. Michelle likes to hear how productions of her adaptations have been received.

Phoenix Theatre Inc. is presenting this enchanting play, in association with Studio2Stage Youth Productions, in the Memorial Hall Theatre, 435 Carrington Street, Hamilton Hill. The two-hour shows commence at the earlier time of 7.00 pm, to allow the children share in the magic.

The performances run every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night until 2nd September. There is a 2.00 pm Sunday matinée on the 27th August and 2nd September.

The show is proudly supporting the Autism Association of WA, by giving their profits from programmes and raffle.

 

The main scene is around 1900 in the ‘Green Gables’ farmhouse kitchen. To the side of the stage is a short staircase leading up to Anne’s bedroom. In front of the stage – to the side – is a dais with the author’s writing room, complete with an antique desk and side table. Great sets, solidly built by John Boley.

Throughout the play, there are many minor scenes, all clearly represented, and thanks to the hard work of Linda Charles, Jodie Innes, and Emily Winn, were delightfully furnished with furniture and props of the era. For example, the brief classroom scene did not simply have the teacher’s table and chair, but the crew had managed to source an old blackboard, chalk, and old books. A huge amount of work for a couple of minutes, but this thought had obviously gone into every scene by the props team of Narelle Thoms and Cathy Winn.

Then of course, there were the numerous set changes. With so many items to move onto the set, some stage crews would have taken a minute. This crew, Zenobia Roberts-Menzel, Keira Butt and Rebecca Winn, managed by Cathy Howard and Emily Winn, knew precisely what to do, and who was doing what. They silently moved in, and moved out – with no lingering – completing even a complex scene change in as little as 5 – 10 seconds. Superb work.

The costumes were typical of that worn by country folk in the early 1900s, from the tabards, utility clothing, to the long knickerbockers and leather boots. Well done the parents, who provided with Jodie and Elaine Innes help. The whole effect was rounded off by Amalie Meneghetti’s makeup, and of course Anne’s carrot hair – thanks to Wandi Hair Studio, who I am sure have never been asked for the ‘ranga look’ before.

      The author, Lucy Montgomery (Beth Tandy), is sitting at her desk and starts to read the opening paragraph of the novel she is writing.

      Aging brother and sister, Matthew (Lachlan Felstead) and Marilla (Kendra McGrady), are part of the Cuthbert family who have lived for generations at ‘Green Gables’, the family farm in Avonlea on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. The farm work has become an encumbrance, and so they decide to adopt boy to help them. They ask a friend, Mrs. Spencer (Rebecca Winn) who works at an asylum to bring them an orphan boy. However, when the shy nervous farmer arrives at the railway station late, the senile stationmaster (Felix Camponovo, great character acting) points to an eleven-year-old orphan girl. She is Anne (Ebony Howard), a stubborn but loyal girl. Matthew is horrified.

     The miserable and selfish Mr Blewett (Blake Hughes), who lives nearby offers to take Anne as a housemaid, but thankfully, Marilla, sees that he and his wife would treat Anne badly.

     A neighbour, Mrs. Lynde (Lili Thoms), is a moralising busybody who thinks that the Cuthberts are totally incapable of raising Anne; but the stern, strict old maid, Marilla loves the orphan’s warm charm and humour. Anne is uneducated and lacks a gracious, ladylike behaviour, so when Mrs Lynde mocks Anne’s red hair, she does not hesitate in giving her a mouthful back again. Anne does not particularly like Grace Lynde (Keira Butt) either.

     Anne has never had real friends, so when she meets Diana Barry (Gabriella Munro), a plump, pretty girl at school, Diana soon becomes her best friend. After school, they share a bottle of red currant wine, thinking it is raspberry cordial, and Diana returns home drunk. When the girls waken Diana’s old Aunt Josephine (Lara Foster), Diana’s mother (Tara Butt), being an austere, exacting woman forbids the girls to speak again.

     Anne has a tough time at school, some of the girls mock her constantly, even the reliable Jane Andrews (Kristen Vandenberg) and giggly Ruby Gillis (Ruby Thoms) who are basically nice girls, but are under the spell of a loudmouthed, trouble maker, Josie Pye (Tashie Baker). To make things worse, there is an intelligent, good-looking boy, Gilbert Blythe (Tim McClelland) who, along with his friend Charlie (Evan Swallow) unrelentingly tease Anne about her carrot hair. Furious, Anne swears never to speak to Gilbert again.

     What will become of this shy, intelligent girl?

 

The magnificent lighting, by Alex Coutts-Smith and Kate Lloyd, had the warmth of the oil lamps used on the farms. There were clever visual river effects created by the lighting. The sound effects were well selected and played at a sensible level. The sound team of Mikaela Innes and Lincoln Tapping used four microphones suspended above the stage, with one clip-on microphone for the author.

With productions starring youths – this cast has an average age of around 15 yrs. – I tend to go along prepared to be kind, but this team all had adult acting qualities. Skilfully directed by Jodie Innes and her assistant, Narelle Thoms, the cast were word perfect, all had the same light, Canadian accents. They moved around the stage with confidence, displaying their characters perfectly. Displaying complex emotions or enacting old age (Lachlan and Kendra), were not a problem. There were no extras in this show – everyone gave a full acting performance.

This book is one of the World’s favourites, and many of the audience, young and old will have a lucid picture of Anne in their minds. Anne is shy, yet feisty. She is stubborn, but lacking confidence. She has had a tough life, yet still loves and appreciates everyone. My worry was could the director find a suitable actress to fill all of these features? Well 15 years old Ebony was absolutely perfect, giving an outstanding performance, and she was backed by an amazing amount of talent.

Studio2Stage have given us good shows in the past, but this production is youth theatre at its very best. This is a first class production in every department, and so it is very highly recommended.