RUSSELL'S WORLD by Herbie Barnes, directed by Jan Skene (Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People/Manitoba Theatre for Young People). 165 Front East. To April 30. $15-$20. See Continuing Listings. 416-862-2222. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Russell's World may only be as big as a young boy's bedroom, but it's as rich as the imaginative mind of the title character, a latchkey kid who's teased at his new school and retreats into often empowering fantasies.
Herbie Barnes 's fanciful, fun play, aimed at children six and up, is one of the year's best shows for young audiences, a wonderfully staged piece with a winning performance by the author and some clever, often surprising puppetry by Christian Murray and director Jan Skene .
The boyish Barnes easily taps into his own kid, with a touch of clown thrown in, to create Russell's day, filled with pirates, spaceships, spies and a life-or-death struggle with a banana-fingered monster who lives under his bed.
Puppet designers Linda Leon and Shawn Kettner work marvels with the simplest and most everyday things, turning a teddy and a torn jacket into Russell's closest pals. The latter, voiced by Murray like a plum-toned butler, is especially magical, going from limp garment to kinetic character in a second.
Aided by The Big Book of Adventure - another puppet - Russell fills his world with exciting figures, though sometimes his imagination runs away with him and he gets scared of what he's conjured up.
There are a few little problems, such as the script's occasionally repetitious feel and the lack of a reason for Russell's rejection of his imaginative powers and then acceptance of them again. But these are quibbles about a fine show whose author and characters speak directly and with warmth to young viewers.