Entertainment

Take a journey to Middle Earth

From left: Liam Sullivan as Thorin, Ted Staunton as Balin, Derek Usher as Gandalf, Zavier Tanner as Bilbo Baggins will perform in Imagine That!
From left: Liam Sullivan as Thorin, Ted Staunton as Balin, Derek Usher as Gandalf, Zavier Tanner as Bilbo Baggins will perform in Imagine That!'s upcoming production of The Hobbit.
— image credit: submitted photo

A beloved children’s tale, turned big screen blockbuster, is now coming to the stage in Langley.

Imagine That! theatre company’s production of The Hobbit opens on Friday for a two-weekend run.

Fresh off its January production of Holy Mo and Spew Boy, which featured a cast of just three performers, Imagine That! is preparing to take audiences on an epic journey through Middle Earth — where they’ll meet the Hobbit himself, Bilbo Baggins, as well as Gandalf the Grey, Gollum and a band of dwarves who are determined to reclaim their home under the Lonely Mountain from the evil dragon Smaug.

Many among the cast of 16 will take on multiple parts and collectively perform more than 25 roles.

Donning the familiar grey robes of the wizard Gandalf, is Langley’s Derek Usher, a regular player on the Venue stage.

With the second of three major studio films dedicated to the book recently in theatres, the viewing public no doubt has a particular image in its collective mind of characters and sets, Usher agreed.

But what they’ll see on the stage is very much a reflection of the source material, he added.

“Faith (Toronchuck, director and producer) doesn’t want us to watch the movies until afterward — which is hard, because Gandalf is iconic,” said Usher.

The challenge for the actor is to ignore what’s been done in the past and create a wizard that, for him, reflects Tolkein’s vision.

“We’re all informed by different things we see.

“I do more of a character study of who I think the writer intended (Gandalf) to be,” he said.

For Usher, the role offers a chance to stretch his own creative muscles, but he’s also very appreciative of the opportunities the small theatre company gives to younger performers.

“The thing I love about Faith and Imagine That! productions is that she takes great care about speaking into people’s lives (and creating) positive affirmations.

“It’s always an ensemble cast. It’s non-competitive. Everyone gets stage time, everyone gets to play.

“The arts in general can be very competitive — to a destructive level. Faith works really hard to make sure that doesn’t enter into it.”

As for the majestic shot-in-New Zealand landscapes and some of the book’s more magical locations — Rivendell, Laketown and Hobbiton, as well as the many scenes that are set underneath the mountains of Middle Earth — well, there are sufficiently clever ways of handling that on a small stage, with as few cumbersome set changes as possible, noted Usher.

For the most part, the action will take place through interior scenes — whether inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole or Lord Elrond’s house, Gollum’s cave or the dwarves’ mountain kingdom.

“You can get a lot of different environments in a small space, if you’re intelligent about it,” said Usher.

A master cabinet maker has been helping to make the sets, including Bilbo’s iconic round door, even more spectacular, he added.

“We’ve got some beautiful set pieces.”

Usher, who works in restoration services, is also a multi-instrumentalist who divides his performance time between a pair of bands, including one called Dialect 9, the sole purpose of which is to fight against human trafficking.

It was when his son became involved in theatre about seven years ago that Usher got his start with Imagine That, helping out on the technical end of things — working on lighting and sound.

Then about three years ago, he was coaxed onto the stage when the theatre company mounted a production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Next, he took on the dual role of Captain Hook and Mr. Darling in a production of Peter Pan.

Despite the fact  all of the plays have been translated onto the big screen, the response Usher is getting tells him the production will be well received once it opens on Feb. 28.

“I found when we did The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, around the same time the earlier movies in the series happened, people were not as excited about it.

“When I mention The Hobbit, their eyes light up,” he said.

•••

The Hobbit journeys onto the stage at The Venue, inside the Friends of the Langley Vineyard Church building 5708 Glover Rd. on Friday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Additional performance dates are Friday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays, March 1 and 8 and Sundays, March 2 and 9 at 2:30 p.m. each day.

General admission tickets are $15, and are available from the online box office at ImagineThatPlace.com. They may also be purchased at the door or from cast members

The theatre box office opens one hour before showtime. Doors open 30 minutes before curtain.

The play is approximately two hours long, with a 15 minute intermission.

Children who are able to sit quietly for the duration are welcome, said Toronchuk.

However some may find parts scary; actors playing mythical creatures wear masks and it becomes loud in places.

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