Merlin & Morgana photo

Merlin engrosses and endures
by Kate Watson
The Coast

Halifax Theatre for Young People conjures a winner
As someone who was enraptured by Arthurian legends as a child, I think it’s wonderful that the Halifax Theatre for Young People is staging Paul Ledoux’s Merlin. What a great opportunity to turn kids on to an engrossing, enduring story. This is an action-packed play filled with sword fights and magic tricks that will appeal to a younger audience. The complex political machinations and the exploration of the role of women also provide food for thought for teens and adults. The story is told in a non-linear fashion with many flashbacks and visions, but actor Gordon Patrick White does a fine job of delineating the young, insecure Merlin and Merlin as a mature sorcerer who carries the weight of the world on his

This Merlin Younger, More Troubled
By Elissa Barnard, Arts Reporter
The Chronicle Herald

Halifax Theatre for Young People pulls the rabbit out of the hat again with a 90-minute historical drama full of intrigue and conflict.

Last spring the city’s professional youth theatre company brought the 19th-century Nova Scotia tale of the SS Atlantic to life. This spring it goes back in time to the early Middle Ages in Halifax-born playwright Paul Ledoux’s Merlin, the story of the famous wizard up to the point of Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone.

This Merlin, subtly and skillfully incarnated by Gordon White, is not the mighty, wizened, white-haired magician. This a younger, troubled man, desperate to bring peace to his war-torn country through a new and just king.

As the background to the more famous and familiar legend of the Knights of the Round Table, this is a compelling epic tale of youth, love, ambition, treachery and machination or magic.

When Merlin has visions of the future and works to realize them, how much of what happens is preordained and how much is the result of free will and his own actions?
“It’s both,” snapped my daughter, 10. Clearly, she was bored by the question but certainly not by the play.

Directed by Tessa Mendel with a top-notch cast, Merlin moves swiftly through time and place from the reign of Merlin’s grandfather Vortigern to King Uther’s renewed attempt to repel the Saxons when his son, Arthur, and his daughter, Morgana, are both teenagers.

Merlin is a vulnerable, anxious man who fears what his powerful magic can do. As he is thrust out of seclusion to accompany Arthur and Kay to King Uther’s armed camp, he looks back into his violent past.

In the beginning, Merlin was a stammering, weak boy adored by his mother (Karen Bassett) and despised by his grandfather Vortigern’s young Saxon wife Rowena. She knows that unless she has a son, Merlin is the heir to the throne. Suddenly the Saxons start a war that puts Merlin and Rowena on the run until she cosies up to King Uther and Merlin goes off with the Duke of Cornwall.

Leanna Todd is a deliciously rotten Rowena, a totally duplicitous, conniving person who uses her beauty, intelligence and limited magical powers to manipulate the men around her. The stage crackles with her intensity, and her motivation is easily understood given the fact she is a woman scrambling for power for herself and her child.

That child, Morgana, is perfectly played by the red-headed Els Bullock, a Dalhousie theatre student. Morgana journeys in this play from a merry, confident young girl who can wield a sword better than any young soldier into a frantic young woman about to lose her dream to be queen, a dream fuelled by her appalling mother and squashed by her previously adoring father.

Whether or not Arthur wants to be king ‘ and Truro actor Wayne Burns plays him as a confused, earnest and decent young man ‘ Merlin insists.

Two strong local actors play the aging kings with a surprising depth and humanity, given their short scenes. Lee J. Campbell, fresh from The Road to Mesa on Neptune’s Studio stage, is the strong-willed Vortigern, and John Dartt is the flawed and failing Uther. Veteran actor John Beale brings three different types of men to life in smaller roles.

The play is staged on set designer Bryan Kenney’s spare and effective structure of grey platforms and rocks with magical and moody effects of lights by Mike Mader and sound by Terry Pulliam. Jennifer Coe’s earthy period-style costumes place the viewer firmly in the hardscrabble times.

Wayne Burns, Els Bullock and cast

Tessa Mendel directs for a wonderful clarity. Kids can connect easily to the lively young characters, including Drew O’Hara as Kay, as well as all the sword fighting, mystery and mayhem. Adults relate to the more seasoned, serious characters, lots of twists and turns and some philosophical questions about the nature of life.

Merlin runs at the Bella Rose Arts Centre, Halifax West High School, Wednesday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m., with a closing matinee Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 for children or students and $40 for family of four. For tickets call 457-3239 or go online to

Two in the Coop

The Halifax Herald Limited 06/21/2014

Copyright © 2014 The Halifax Herald Limited 06/21/2014 June 22, 2014 7:26 pm



Many people dream of flying, but if you see Halifax Theatre For Young People’s Two in the Coop, you’ll want to climb into the nest. The 40-minute show that tells the tale of two young birds exploring their exciting, and sometimes frightening, world played Friday morning and repeats on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Alderney Landing Theatre in Dartmouth as part of Stages Theatre Festival, running in conjunction with the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.

Ron Fromstein’s comedy, described tongue-in-cheek as “Waiting for Godot for Birds,” is directed by Halifax Theatre for Young People co-founder Tessa Mendel, and stars Tom Lute and Taylor Olsen as Pete and Brad, respectively.

Brad, who hatched first and is therefore older, bosses around the enthusiastic, optimistic Pete. He proudly says he’s nearly a bird, while Pete is merely a hatchling. Brad is more cautious and he’s protective of his younger brother, both physically and emotionally, trying to shield Pete from the fact that snakes and hawks that inhabit the jungle are predators and might eat them.

Their relationship, with the competition and familiar sibling fights, is delightful and symbiotic, proving that together they are stronger than one. Their love is palpable.

The set, designed by Garrett Barker, and the costumes by Emlyn Murray, are fantastic. The giant nest, a circle of sticks and greenery, which the birds stick their heads through, or perch on to view their world and watch out for their mother, elicits gasps. And the feather-covered costumes in beiges, with a touch of blue, are whimsical and realistic at the same time.

Both Lute and Olsen are believable as birds, occasionally squawking, flapping and munching on worms. Olsen tenderly tucking Lute under his wing is a particularly sweet moment.

Two in the Coop occasionally drags, but is ultimately a touching and heartwarming piece of theatre.

In the Fall/In This World

In This World Close
Helena Pipe and Kristin Slaney

Halifax Theatre for Young People offers sensitive
views of tough issues

The Chronicle Herald

Halifax Theatre for Young People presents two very grown-up plays about the pain of growing up.

Innocence is lost, tough choices are made and the world becomes cold and confusing in In The Fall, a lush and lyrical adaptation of an Alistair MacLeod short story, for ages eight and up, and In This World, a play about two urban high school girls caught up in a minefield of race, class and a date gone terribly wrong. It’s aimed at Grade 9 and up.

In This World, by hot young Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, is a remarkable play that leaves its audience stunned after a terse, tense and revealing encounter between Neyssa and Bijou.

Neyssa, portrayed with humour, honesty and depth by Bermudian actor and recent Dalhousie theatre grad Helena Pipe, is the brash and vulnerable daughter of a Jamaican single mother. Neyssa’s high marks have gotten her into an elite private school, which director Tessa Mendel makes the Grammar School. Neyssa lives in north Dartmouth.

Bijou, played with precision, honesty and strength by Dalhousie theatre studies student Kristin Slaney, is a pretty white girl who has befriended Neyssa. She lives virtually alone in a huge house while her parents work in demanding professional jobs. She is dating Neyssa’s cousin and is unaware of Neyssa’s culture and the pressures in her life.

When Neyssa punches Bijou in the school hallway, the two girls are sent to a classroom to await a teacher. They spar verbally, revealing the terrifying, complex territory of date rape.

Staging the play simply with chairs, a projected photograph of an empty hallway and a sparse use of sound, director Tessa Mendel lets the power come through the strong dialogue.

In This World, commissioned in 2010 by Montreal Youtheatre, is a complex, thought-provoking play. It would make a good starting point for discussion. While there is not much bad language or graphic detail, the issues are serious and the answers about how to behave are left up to the audience.

While In This World is gritty and low-tech, In the Fall is rich in design. It casts a spell through storytelling magic with dramatic photographs on three screens, a pungent use of sound and two actors taking on multiple voices and characters.

The story is a sad one set in Cape Breton in the 1950s, in a home on hardscrabble land on the seashore. The father is about to go to Halifax for the winter to work as a stevedore and the mother insists his old, beloved pit pony be sold for slaughter instead of fed all winter.

The heartache in this story is like an accelerating train. The photographic image of a large horse’s head in black with a halo of white is branded in the audience’s mind.

Professional Halifax actor Doug MacAulay, originally from New Waterford, and Glen Matthews, nominated for a 2010 Merritt for outstanding actor in Logan & I, have to shift seamlessly from telling the story to acting within it, and from being young boys to a haggard mother, a stern father and the nasty man who’s come for the horse.

The style works, particularly as the story gains steam and the actors gain strength inside their imagined world. MacAulay is strong as the mother and the horse driver.

Halifax Theatre for Young People co-artistic director Chris Heide decided to adapt MacLeod’s short story only using the author’s words. He maintains MacLeod’s distinctive rhythm and sea-steeped nostalgia.

In the Fall, like In This World, is also very real. Eight-year-old animal lovers might find it too much. However, this half-hour play also deeply examines difficult, adult choices and demands within the bonds of family.

In the Fall has a great metaphoric set by lighting and set designer Evan Brown, as well as vivid design elements by Terry Pulliam on sound; Nick Bottomley on projections and Jennifer Coe on costumes.

HTYP is pairing these two provocative, finely produced plays for youth as a 90-minute show and also staging them separately at Alderney Landing Theatre.

The plays run together Saturday, 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 15 to 19, 7:30 p.m. They run separately with talkbacks today and Sunday and Nov. 19 and 20: In the Fall at 2 p.m. and In this World at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 per show; $15 and $10 for the double bill and are at or 1-888-311-9090.

In The Fall / In This World

The Halifax Theatre for Young People’s dynamic duo
A pair of shows, and two pairs of actors deliver raw emotion in In the Fall and In This World.
By Tara Thorne
The Coast

The Halifax Theatre for Young People—you know what kids are cool with? Rebranding!—presents a pair of two-handers best seen together. Glen J. Matthews and Doug MacAulay ably and sensitively anchor In the Fall as James and David, brothers barely in their teens in Cape Breton in the ’50s, while Kristen Slaney and Helena Pipe are Bijou and Neyssa, two contemporary teens, in In This World. The former was written by Chris Heide, adapting too faithfully from an Alistair MacLeod short story—the actors narrate more than converse, the precise, dense, evocative language sometimes pulling focus from director Tessa Mendel’s simple but clever staging. But it’s a compelling story, as we see the moment the boys’ innocence is stolen by a perfect storm of poverty and greed. In This World was penned by Toronto rising star Hannah Moscovitch, and here the staging is even more efficient: two chairs inside a box, no breaks. They once were friends but now Neyssa’s punching Bijou out. While waiting in the principal’s office the girls work back to the moment of betrayal, and to the surprise of all, it’s much bigger than the usual teenage tiff. Slaney and Pipe are excellent, switching Thelma and Louise-style from victim to aggressor, over and over, until they come to an understanding, shared and grown-up and terrible.

The Gravesavers

The Gravesavers: Magical Theatre for Young and Old.
Author: Kate Watson on Sat, May 16, 2009 at 9:52 AM
The Coast

I try really hard not pre-judge shows, but I had read Sheree Fitch’s YA novel The Gravesavers, and it seemed to me that the new theatre company, Halifax Theatre for Young People, was being overly ambitious in mounting it. It just didn’t seem possible that a play could convey the time shifts between 1873 and present-day in an easily understandable way, or that it would be able to capture Fitch’s lip-slippery language and offbeat characters.
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Grave Savers Photo
Josh Cruddas, Adam Bayne, Alison MacDougall, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Bill Forbes

Spooky, Spunky and Smart: There’s Nothing Dead About These Gravesavers!
By Amanda Campbell

The Way I See It- Online Theatre Blog
Growing up in Halifax it was a rite of passage to have this poem by Sheree Fitch imprinted on your heart. Indeed, Sheree Fitch was as much a part of a complete childhood as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Sesame Street and sleepovers. It seems quite appropriate then that Halifax’s newest theatre company, Halifax Theatre for Young People, should choose another Sheree Fitch classic, the novel The Gravesavers, as the basis for its first play.
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The Gravesavers Well-Told, Well-Made
By Elissa Barnard Arts Reporter
The Halifax Herald

The Gravesavers leaves you with a shiver. Halifax Theatre for Young People’s first production is an intense, 90-minute journey into a present-day teenager’s distress and into the 18th century shipwreck of the S.S. Atlantic not far from Halifax. Adapted by Chris Heide from Sheree Fitch’s novel for young adults, the play crackles with poetic and insightful writing, credibility in its young characters and an affecting, spooky atmosphere of time past and present. There are lost souls here and the play’s overall message is one of forgiveness and remembrance.
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