The Hobbit

The American High School Theatre Festival brings a sliver of Tolkien’s Middle Earth to an Edinburgh stage in their very ambitious fantasy adaptation of The Hobbit, performed using huge quantities of inventiveness and fabric.

This set, combined with the great costumes, helps invoke the world of Middle Earth while maintaining the flexibility needed for the vast changes in location and setting.

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who thinks he likes nothing more than to sit at home and smoke his pipe. But his adventurous Tookish blood is stirring. He is unexpectedly recommended by the wizard Gandalf the Grey as a burglar to a team of dwarves. The dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, are determined to regain their gold which is trapped in the Lonely Mountain and guarded by the dragon Smaug. Bilbo and the expedition team encounter many troubles and characters along the way, but their adventures have only just begun when they reach the mountain.

Recreating Tolkien’s world and story onstage is a tall order that the show rises to with lots of energy and ideas. Waterfalls are created by waving fabric, rocks and seats by brown sheets draped over chorus members. Scenery is painted onto huge backdrops and intricate illustrations are reproduced on fabric covering hoops. This set, combined with the great costumes, helps invoke the world of Middle Earth while maintaining the flexibility needed for the vast changes in location and setting. The one noticeable exception is the fur coat Thorin wears, which is more evocative of Cruella de Vil than a holdless dwarven lord.

There are strong performances from Joshua Davis as Frodo, Myah Schulz as Gandalf and Quinn Einnigan as Thorin. The three work together well and pull off a believable, mismatched team vibe, heightened by the fact that Davis is the tallest person onstage. Kura Wassill deserves a mention for her role as Balin, whose interjections constantly have the audience chuckling.

Some tricks are necessary to illustrate the abundance of magic taking place in this show. While some moments work, such as when all of the dwarves are trapped in the spiderweb, many are more of a miss than a hit. The use of puppets during a scene where the characters are climbing trees to escape wolves is not particularly successful, mainly because it is unclear that what Old Took is holding is a puppet. The ring turning Frodo invisible is amusing for the wrong reasons.

Whilst the main characters are strong, the characters they meet along the way give weak performances. Particularly difficult to comprehend is the goblin general, who is played by two people who speak in unison. What the goblin general says is unintelligible as the words come through a mask.

The Hobbit is a challenging piece to adapt for the stage, even for a Tolkien fan. Unfortunately, this production results in lots of scenes with the characters standing around discussing what they are going to do next and some warping of the original storyline to make the story fit within the realms of possibility. This leads to some continuity errors – for example we start by seeing five dwarves, but at the end of the battle, we are informed there are six left. The battle takes place in slow motion, which makes the scene drag.

However, overall it is a solid piece of youth theatre that will only improve as the run continues.  

Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

This adaptation of Tolkien’s classic is a fast-paced retelling of the tale of Bilbo Baggins, who positively loathed adventures, but one day found himself embroiled in the greatest adventure in the whole history of Middle Earth, in a search for dragon guarded gold. This critically acclaimed adaptation uses masks, puppetry and great swaths of fabric to create Tolkien’s world of dwarves, dragons, trolls, elves, giant spiders, goblins, and of course, hobbits. Nominated in Canada for the 2001 Chalmers Award for Outstanding New Play in the TYA Category.