By Marc Horton
Raymond and the Monster (Stage 16, Sanctuary Stage at Holy Trinity Anglican Church)
In the interests of full and complete disclosure, I must say that I didn’t want to review this play. What if the kids in Raymond and the Monster couldn’t sing? Couldn’t dance? Couldn’t act?
What if Raymond and the Monster was boring? Unwatchable? Awful?
If all those dire things turned out to be true, it would ruin next Christmas and many Christmases to come in our house; it would make my life hell on all sorts of levels. You see, my granddaughter Poppy has a role in Raymond and the Monster — she’s the cute 10-year-old in the blue smock — and it is very, very, very important to her.
I am unbelievably happy to report that Christmas in our house is safe, and that Raymond and the Monster and its cast of more than two dozen kids from age 8 to 15 are a thorough delight. These youngsters can sing, can dance, can act. This play is wonderfully inventive, superbly presented and undeniably funny.
Full credit must go to directors Alyson Connolly and Elaine Dunbar who put this show together over the course of a nine-day camp. One can only admire the patience, the skill and the dedication required to fashion something as accomplished as this over the course of just a little over a week.
The seemingly simple story has villagers in an unnamed village in thrall to a wicked ruling duchess, played with a perfect blend of venality and menace by a terrific Pearl Philip. The duchess has convinced the villagers that she alone can control a monster held in her castle’s dungeon, but that keeping it penned up is costly indeed.
Thus, she taxes everything: milk, shoes, water, beds … children.
And should the parents not come up with the necessary gold pieces that are a head tax on their kids, well, things could get rough for everyone. The duchess has specific plans for all the loot she’s collecting. She wants to purchase the Camelon sceptre from her broke but aristocratic cousin and would-be sonneteer, the Count of Camelon, played with much charm by Ronan Faria
It seems that the only thing standing between the kids and being tossed into the dungeon is Raymond, the town scamp and an orphan who has no one to pay for him. He’s an inventive lad — Edward Bennett brings a proper impishness to the part — and while we all know things will likely turn out for the best, there’s a lot of fun to be had watching it all unfold as it should.
A word here about the music. There are some surprisingly strong voices in this young cast, notable among those is Chloe Brinco who plays the village seamstress and the mother of two, and Sam Michaelchuk, the town crier.
The best tune among the half dozen songs is The Sonnet Song written by Elaine Dunbar. It’s full of wonderful word play and manages to explain, more or less, the difference between Shakespeare’s sonnets and those of a more Petrarchan bent. I loved it.
— Marc Horton is the former movie reviewer and books editor at the Edmonton Journal. We compared Fringe credentials with Poppy when they met for a post-show burger. His said “Media,” hers said “Artist.” Hers looked better.