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Thursday, September 25, 2014


 (Tarryn Bennett & James Cairns)

 (Review from the artSMart team covering the 2014 Witness Hilton Arts Festival which ran at Hilton College from September 19 to 21)
Superb performances in exquisite piece of theatre. (Review by Caroline Smart)

First published in 1940 as a short story, Paul Gallico’s classic and emotionally-moving The Snow Goose was part of my growing up. I am sure that our much-loved LP recording featuring the distinctive voice of Herbert Marshall as Rhayader and Joan Loring as Frith subconsciously encouraged my eventual involvement in radio drama with Springbok Radio and the English Service.

Recently seen at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival and directed by Jenine Collocott, a dramatised adaptation featured James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett. All three were involved in the adaptation and they have created what is an exquisite piece of theatre, superbly performed and full of energy.

The story deals with a reclusive lighthouse owner, Philip Rhayader, who is an artist despite having a deformed arm. He is looked down on by the Essex townsfolk and many think he is stupid. One day, a snow goose makes a rare appearance but is shot and wounded by duck hunters, one of whom is the father of a young girl called Frith. A free spirit, she is filled with energy, inquisitiveness and passion for independence. She takes the wounded goose to Rhayader and a warm friendship develops between them.

The adaptation skilfully marks the progress of the story as it heads towards the outbreak of the Second World War and the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk when, under Winston Churchill’s orders, any ship or boat available, no matter how small, headed across the English Channel to rescue the troops. The play comes to an undeniably heart-rending finish, although it does come to a conclusion before the ending of the original story.

A puppetry image of a snow goose flying above a sailboat combined with sound effects of bombing sets the scene. Wearing masks, Cairns and Bennett take on numerous roles, apart from their main characters of Rhadyader and Frith. Some of these character changes happen at lightning speed, especially when they take on the roles of the haughty newsreaders.

The performances are compelling and utterly believable. I loved Cairns’ army officer and Bennett’s post office lady, each with their own distinctive mannerisms. The play is full of delicious moments of hilarity as well as those of gentle poignancy, particularly when Frith feeds the goose and gets cross when other birds try to butt in. There is another beautifully-handled scene when they dance together.

The set is highly effective. The revolve becomes Rhayader’s sailboat and what looks like a folded standing umbrella turns into a sail. The cluster of slatted wooden boxes form cupboards or storage space.

All in all, a most fulfilling 70 minutes worth of theatre. The production is supported by Zultrans CC. – Caroline Smart