Ho-hum Hobbit - A Theatre Review by National Business Review

What better place than Wellington, home of Middle Earth, to premiere Melbourne-based Christine Anketell's stage adaptation of The Hobbit, the everyman-as-hero Tolkien tale that spawned the more epic Lord of the Rings trilogy.

About eight years ago in Australia, the multi-skilled Anketell conceived and direc ted a puppetry-based adaptation that toured nationally over three years to reportedly great acclaim. Now her passion for the story has perpetrated this large scale stage production, scheduled to play until April 2006, moving from Wellington to Auckland then Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.

The transition to full human proportions demands greater emphasis on the central characters' gut-level emotional responses to the dramatic events they encounter. And given the fantasy dimension, it's reasonable to expect the archetypal characteristics of each role, and their inner feelings, will permeate their physical performances.

As with commedia dell'arte, the costumes and makeup need to blend with each actor's physicality to distil and express those all-important emotional states. But they don't. The costumes and make-up, beards and wigs especially, mask in the wrong sense. The actors inhabit them like ordinary humans, in no way transformed into new states of being.

Something's awry when George Henare's functional Narrator has more personality and expresses more genuine feeling than anyone else. He does a great job of investing his expositional and descriptive lines with excitement, even bursting into song on two brief occasions, which seems odd in isolation.

For the rest, the adaptation, directing and performance styles simply fail to get the tale off the ground. Greater liberties have yet to be taken in translating and honouring what is told on the page into what can be shown in action on the stage.

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