The International Children's Festival of the Arts through May 28 at various locations around Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West). $12.50 festival daypass (but book tickets for shows individually). For complete info, see Continuing, pages 88-90. 416-973-4000, www.harbourfrontcentre.com/milk. Rating: NNN
Over the moon
There is a Rabbit in the Moon (Vélo Théétre, France). Ages four and up. May 27-28 at 2 pm. Brigantine Room. Rating: NNN
This magical, imaginative production begins when the entire audience steps, one by one, through a wardrobe and into the fairy bower of Thomas Snout, a top-hat-wearing fairy who tells tales about the things he collects from the night. These include bedtime stories, a clock that thuds like a heartbeat, two treasured dolls and a handful of stars that he hangs from the walls. The elements come together in a loud ceremony about welcoming the daylight and putting fears of the dark to bed.
Sitting cross-legged for nearly an hour on an inch of foam has anyone over 20 squirming, but the toddlers and kindergarteners are mesmerized into near stillness and silence.
Now, that's magic.
Henry the fifth (TheaterGrueneSosse, Germany). Ages seven and up. May 27 at 12:30 pm (in German). Rating: NN
There are plenty of things about Shakespeare 's Henry V that suggest it could be adapted into a great kids' show. TheaterGrueneSosse 's version takes away everything that kids might enjoy, like the heroics and most of the battles. For these they substitute an anti-war message, a confusing storyteller (who's also hard to hear) and some weird lighting choices, especially during Henry's famous battlefield scene, played here on an entirely dark stage to a fully lit audience.
Too bad about the conclusion, too. The final scene finds the characters bickering about how to end the story as the lights slowly fade to black. I suspect any of the nine-year-olds in the audience could have come up with something better.
HANSEL AND GRETEL (Puppentheater Halle, Germany). Rating: NN
Puppentheater Halle's version of the childhood classic goes straight to the original's dark themes of poverty and abandonment. Too bad this English-language premiere is slow-moving, but the narrator provides some welcome emotion despite an awkward translation. At the performance I attended, when she said Hansel put stones in the pocket of his skirt, a young audience member asked a parent loudly, "Is Hansel a girl?"
Still, there are moments of enticing puppetry when Hansel and Gretel play in the woods, and viewers young and old feel a thrill when the witch -- a combination of hand puppet and real person -- steps onstage and dwarfs the tiny marionettes.
The production will have closed by the time this review appears, but maybe there'll be more excitement in the company's other show, Can You Whistle, Johanna? , about a girl's longing for a grandfather, which runs this weekend (May 26-28). It's aimed at those seven and up.