Amelia and the Dwarfs not just child’s play

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As someone slowly re-immersing himself into the world of theatre, I thought I’d start with a children’s play. I wasn’t prepared to also be stuffed into a child-sized seat. However, a few minutes into Amelia and the Dwarfs, a student-run workshop production by UVic’s Student Alternative Theatre Company, the numbness in my legs was replaced by warmth in my heart, and I’m sure it wasn’t just due to poor circulation.

Based on the Victorian-era children’s tale by Julianna Honoria Ewing and adapted by Erin Shields, the play follows Amelia, a rambunctious child who wreaks havoc on her parents and nurse. One night, after sneaking into the haystacks against her parents’ will, Amelia is kidnapped by dwarfs and forced to live with them underground, mending the dresses she had wrecked and finishing the food that she had wasted. The narrator, a frail old woman who serves the dwarfs, teaches her how to mend her dresses and clean her messes.  Eventually, Amelia’s presence begins to grow on the dwarfs, and she learns that they love to dance in the moonlight above ground, so she plots her escape by the next full moon.

Though short on seats and space, the black box environment of the Barbara McIntyre Studio heightened the experience of the production by placing the audience in the middle of the action. Props floated down from the catwalks and several clotheslines radiated out towards the crowd. The small space also allowed the actors to perform without amplification, eliminating the microphone problems that sometimes plague productions. The stage was much larger than the seating area, which allowed the action to spill into the audience (the narrator sat in a rocking chair in the aisle).

I cheered on Chloë Dufort’s Amelia in due course, but it took a few scenes, probably because Amelia wasn’t the easiest character to like at first. Her character’s growth was very natural, and her energy was infectious. She was surrounded by a very strong ensemble of supporting players, notably the old woman, played with conviction by Nicholas Guerreiro.

Hilarity found numerous forms, from the extreme exuberance of Zoë Wessler and Kaeden Derksen as Fab and Dab, creatures who couldn’t agree on how to sort Amelia’s scraps, to the awkward Training Dwarf, played by Haley Garnett, who simply wanted to find a dance partner.

Blair Moro, who played both Amelia’s father and her bulldog Buckles, switched between his roles with ease. While his costume change meant simply adding a pair of floppy ears, his transformation from a gruff farmer to a dog with trust issues was remarkable.

Though the sets were not lavish, they were perfectly suited to the space. Humble wooden crates easily passed for haystacks and fine furniture. The music, composed and performed by the musicians themselves, perfectly underscored the action without overwhelming the small space. Though students put everything together, the show delighted everyone in the audience, which included people young and old. The crowd could hardly move their limbs, but they gave the performance as much applause as they could muster.

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