Scotland's Visible Fictions proves its low-tech storytelling style possesses enough swash and buckle to thrill an audience of kids raised on 3D movies and computer action games.
The globetrotting theatre company, which last visited Manitoba Theatre for Young People in 2010 with a rollicking retelling of the Greek myth about Jason and the Argonauts, returns with another tale of an old-school heroic tale, The Mark of Zorro, this time written by Davey Anderson. The young audience at a school performance this week delighted in the simple but inventive staging that was part pop-up book, comic book and tabletop theatre. They cheered Zorro's vanquishing of the villain and of course jeered his victory kiss with the besotted Isabella.
Zorro, created by New York-based pulp writer Johnston McCulley in 1919, is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega who, in early 19th-century California, witnesses the murder of his nobleman father, who cautions his grieving son before he dies: "Don't fight for vengeance, fight only for justice."
When the corrupt Estaban, the captain of the royal guard, allows his soldiers to rob the peasants and then kidnaps Isabella's father, the governor, the all-in-black Zorro rides like the wind on his stallion to the rescue. Although he has no superpowers, Zorro strikes fear into the hearts of bad guys with the snap of his whip and accuracy of his rapier that with three swipes leaves his feared mark.
The real heroes of the eventful 70-minute adventure are cast members Denise Hoey, Neil Thomas and Tim Settle, who narrate and bring the simple fun to The Mark of Zorro, geared for children seven and up. The trio make it look like child's play with cardboard puppets literally pulled out of an over-sized storybook. The horses are played by performers who hold a large cartoon head in one hand, a tail in the other. They earned chuckles from the preteen audience when a few nuggets were dropped to represent horse buns.
The ingenuity in the telling extends to the use of large swath of masking tape as a stand in for a road that gets blown up by a drawing of an old-fashioned fused bomb and a sign that reads "boom." Zorro leaves his mark on his victims, including Hoey, who pulls opens her blouse to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with a Z.
The effect on the parents watching is a powerful desire to be a kid at play again.
Also versatile and effective is Robin Peoples' set-in-a-box, or what looks like a newspaper kiosk. It flips open every which way, comes apart and re-assembles into everything from a dungeon to a rooftop and a church. Director Davey Anderson keeps the action moving at a gallop, aided by David Trouton's soundscape, which sounds vaguely like theme music from TV westerns.
The 1880s caped crusader wins the day in The Mark of Zorro but every young person wins who learns its lessons about justice and heroism.