When a new version of a classic folk tale comes to Surrey Arts Centre on Saturday, Feb. 4 it’ll be a homecoming of sorts for Cloverdale-raised Ian Harmon.
The busy professional actor – son of well-known theatre director and BeachHouse Theatre co-founder Rick Harmon – is one of the players in Axis Theatre Co.’s current tour of Hamelin: A New Fable, playwright Leslie Mildiner’s high-energy, family-oriented retelling of the famous tale of the pied piper.
The performance is at 2 p.m. Feb. 4 on the centre’s main stage, at 13750 88 Ave.
In keeping with Axis’ uniquely physical, mime-influenced theatre style, the troupe play multiple roles in the piece, which makes extensive use of masks, live music and a healthy helping of clowning and comedic twists.
“There are five actors and we play about 20 roles, so it gets pretty frantic back stage,” Harmon said.
“There are lots of quick changes, and it’s also a musical – so there are instruments involved. But it’s great fun – a great reimagining of the story that works for audiences whether they’re five years old or 65.”
Oddly enough for someone with his local upbringing, this will be the first time Harmon, a 2000 Lord Tweedsmuir grad, has played the Surrey Arts Centre.
“I have it marked with a red circle in my calendar, because it will be the first time I’ve set foot on that stage – even though I saw all my dad’s shows (for Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society) there for years.
“The family will be coming out to see me in it for sure – even if they have seen it before.”
The colourful Jessie Richardson award-winning play – which like all Axis pieces, is aimed at the young and young-at-heart – takes audiences back to medieval Germany and the town of Hamelin which has “grown way too big for its lederhosen.”
In Mildiner’s 21st century take, the town is governed by an immature mayor who still defers to his ‘mommy’ – and a series of stuffy corporate types who have made it clear that the needs of its hard-working townspeople are of little interest.
The heroes of the piece, 10-year-old twins Celeste and Ralph, have come to the conclusion that no grown-ups, with the exception of their Opa Johannes (one of Harmon’s roles), ever keep their word.
When ridiculous new taxes leave their family homeless, Celeste and Ralph come up with a plot to help the grown-ups pay attention to what is truly important – with the help of a wandering minstrel, a flute that has seen better days, and an army of unruly rats.
Also appearing with Harmon are Andrew Cohen, Brent Hirose, Anna Kuman and Sarah May Redmond. Direction is by Chris McGregor, with original music and music direction by Bob Buckley, choreography by Marlise McCormick and sets, props and masks designed by Shizuka Kai.
“One of the characters I play is the mean Mayor of Hamelin, who’s very childish and superficial –he’s also a bit of a fashionista,” said Harmon. “It’s a ‘learning your lesson’ piece. The kids end up teaching a lesson to the mayor.”
If viewers find some parallels between Mildiner’s 13th century Germany and some events in the present day, Harmon is not about to argue.
“There’s definitely some political humour in this – you might catch a couple of Donald Trump references in there,” he said.
It’s no accident that most of Harmon’s theatre work has been in plays geared for young audiences – he said he loves the ensemble work and inventiveness of such shows.
“I’ve done a lot with Green Thumb Theatre, and this is my second stint with Hamelin,” he said, adding that he and the company just returned from performances in Yellowknife, NWT and, following current Lower Mainland shows, will be touring across Canada as far as Sudbury, Ont.
He and his wife Breanne (she’s touring manager for Green Thumb) currently live in Burnaby, and he’s looking forward to spending some down time at home after the Hamelin tour ends.
“I’m up at 5:45 every morning, and we do two shows a day, finishing up at 3:30 p.m. It’s a pretty long day, but it’s worth it.
“It’s some of the most rewarding theatre to do, and seeing kids’ reaction – well, it’s some of the most genuine reaction you’re going to get from any audience. We have our good guys and our bad guys and when we play schools there’s always booing and cheering going on. I’m hoping there’ll be a similar reaction for the Surrey show.”
Hamelin: A New Fable runs a children-friendly 50 minutes (without intermission) and will be followed by a 10-minute talkback discussion between audience members and the players.
Tickets ($15 including all fees) are available from the box office, at 604-501-5566, or through tickets.surrey.ca