Clowns and Children’s Literature: Laughter! During a Cold Holiday Season in Ottawa

Ian Huffam

A Company of Fools can add another feather to their cap with their latest creation, Pomme and ‘Restes: Shipwrecked! On the Tempestuous Lost Island of Never, co-produced with and presented at the Great Canadian Theatre Company.

Shipwrecked! is the third play created by Company of Fools that features the ongoing antics of the uptight, tragedy-obsessed clown Pomme Frites (Scott Florence) and fun-loving, adventure-seeking clown ‘Restes (Margo MacDonald), this time when the cruise ship they’re working on sinks in a storm and they wash up on a deserted island. Shakespeare’s Prospero (Pierre Brault) and Miranda (Katie Ryerson) also work on the ship as a magician and his assistant, with their big act being Prospero’s magical disappearing cabinet. When Pomme and ‘Restes find the cabinet on the beach after storm has ended, their antics set off a literary adventure with filled with daring “rescues,” Captain Hook, talking carrots, Anne of Green Gables, and more puns than you thought possible. Prospero also finds himself on the island though, and schemes to get his cabinet back from the clowns and find his missing daughter.

L-R Margo MacDonald ('Restes) Scott Florence (Pomme Frites)

 

(Pomme (standing) and ‘Restes- Photo credit: Andrew Alexander)

Not only is this show well-written, but writers Florence, MacDonald, and AL Connors are extremely faithful to the original characters from The Tempest, Peter Pan, and Anne of Green Gables that make up the non-clown part of the show. When Pomme and ‘Restes accidentally conjure Captain Hook and Anne Shirley from Prospero’s cabinet, the resulting literary confrontation immediately has the two at odds. Hook’s sleazy opportunistic side repells the (sometimes silly) romantic idealism that’s made Anne such a popular character since her first appearance in 1908 (only four years after the stage-play Peter Pan premiered in London).In mash-up adaptations like this, it’s easy for the writer to fall into the “Mary Sue” trap that plagues bad fan fiction, where the carefully-written characters as they originally appeared are replaced with badly-realized caricatures who end up being saved by the main character, usually a fictionalized version of the fanfic author. Whatever the process was that Florence, MacDonald, and Connors used, Shipwrecked never falls into this trap. Anne and Hook individually develop as they spend more time on the island, away from their original literary works, but this only further reflects the long life that these characters have enjoyed in the public imagination.

Plot summaries and comparative literature discussions aside, a clown show needs to be able to make you laugh, and what’s more important to making a show funny than to hire funny actors? Florence and MacDonald are in top form as Pomme and ‘Restes, carrying the show and driving it forward while constantly making off-the-cuff comments about audience members, making each performance truly unique. Katie Ryerson, playing both Miranda and Anne, finds a beautiful vivaciousness in both characters but makes them both different: Miranda’s desire for adventure is checked by her overbearing but well-intentioned father; Anne’s occasionally irresponsible zeal for poetic justice flows without restraint. Jesse Buck starts out playing the clown-hating entertainment director on the cruise ship, but it’s his other role as Captain Hook that you’ll remember (there’s a tradition in stage and film productions of Peter Pan that the actor playing Captain Hook also plays the fun-hating Mr. Darling at the beginning of the play – see what I mean when I say how faithful the writers were?) . Beyond looking the part so perfectly, Buck really seems to take pleasure in playing Hook, a character that delights in being bad. It’s a family-friendly show but this doesn’t cheapen Hook’s badness – after all he was written for children’s theatre – but rather, it turns Hook into the villain you love to hate, the villain you smile at even as you boo him from the audience. Pierre Brault has the unenviable task of playing the only really serious character in this show, but even he gets to stretch his comedic muscles as he stirs an oversize pot of soup (if I explained it more, I’d be giving too much away. The final pun that Pomme uses in this scene was one of the highlights of the show for me, though.)

L-R  Jesse Buck (Hook), Katie Ryerson (Amazon Anne)

 

(L-R: Buck and Ryerson. Photo credit: Andrew Alexander)

Shipwrecked! is also an incredibly aesthetically pleasing play to watch, thanks to set designer John Doucet whose tropical beach set never moves around or changes but offers so many dynamic staging possibilities. Vanessa Imeson’s costumes are imaginative and cleverly designed; her costumes for Miranda are especially lovely. Another notable design element is the little dot of light that represents the magic spirit Ariel, jumping around from finger to finger and across the set. I’m almost certain that this must be due to lighting designer Darryl Bennett, who is also lighting operator.

L-R - Scott Florence (Pomme), Pierre Brault (Prospero), Margo MacDonald ('Restes)

(L-R: Florence, Brault (standing), MacDonald. Photo credit: Andrew Alexander)

GO see this show! Laughter and and a nostalgic look back at classic children’s literary characters are only two ways to survive a cold Ottawa winter (or whatever it is we’re in right now), but the Fools have a few more surprises up their sleeve that’ll put a smile on your face.

Pomme and ‘Restes: Shipwrecked! On the Tempestuous Lost Island of Never

Until December 14, 2014 at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (Curtain at 8pm). Ticket info here.

Co-Produced by Great Canadian Theatre Company and A Company of Fools

Written by AL Connors, Scott Florence, and Margo MacDonald

Directed by AL Connors

Starring Pierre Brault, Jesse Buck, Scott Florence, Margo MacDonald, Katie Ryerson

Set Designer: John Doucet

Lighting Designer: Darryl Bennett

Sound/Projection Designer: AL Connors

Costume Designer: Vanessa Imeson

Original Backdrop Design: Stephanie Dahmer

Video Content: Andrew Alexander

Stage Manager: Erin Finn

Assistant Sound Designer: Lewis Caunter

Apprentice Stage Manager: Jacki Brabazon

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