The magic of Christmas revisits its roots with moments both happy and heartfelt in the Will Weigler-directed Christmas staging of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant.
Heralded as a Victorian-era bad boy, Wilde’s Christianity inspired him to pen multiple shorts, each carrying a message of faith such as The Selfish Giant, a perfect fit as part of the First Metropolitan United Church’s annual Christmas services on Dec. 23 and 24.
“The Selfish Giant’s themes that resonate are the connection of community, sorrow and loss,” Weigler said. “We know these as ideas in our head, but to see it on stage, we can experience it with our body (through physical emotion).”
For those unfamiliar with the simple but moving tale, a Giant returns from an extended absence to find children playing in his garden. When he tries to banish them, he finds he is the one who was banished, until he experiences a merciful release from a long, cold winter.
The performance is loaded with physical theatre. It features original puppets and the animated personification of the story’s weather elements wind, snow and hail, which transcend the play as characters themselves.
It’s the latest project for Weigler, a spirited purveyor of stage and its effect on the audience. He recently completed a doctorate of applied theatre at the University of Victoria. One of his research areas involved studying the nuances of stage performance to reveal why an audience loses their preconceived notions and allows themselves to be whisked away by the story.
“It comes down to those ‘a-ha’ moments and other things that make an astonishing moment of theatre,” Weigler said.
They’re designed to happen about every two minutes throughout the 35-minute Selfish Giant program.
Adults puppeteer the children, part of an intergenerational cast who use as much of the grand First Met stage and surrounding area as needed. There’s no enclosing Weigler, whose play From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation, was performed within a labyrinth designed and erected at Uptown mall.
“Physical theatre is such a visual medium you want to use the entire space,” he said.
Sound is woven into the show by First Met musical director Fran Pollet, who has paired the play’s hard and soft winter elements with music. A choir of 24, a harp, a trumpet and percussion by Kelby MacNayr.
“We have 50 volunteers helping to put this on,” Pollet said. “We draw from the community for this play and it’s not just for the congregation, it’s for the entire community.”
Harp playing will greet the congregation for 40 minutes before the show, which starts at 7:30pm on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24.
A word to the wise: the regular congregation often swells on Christmas Eve, filling the hall, and the church has had instances of turning away people at the door. Pollet recommends taking in the Monday show as it has traditionally drawn less.
The First Met granted Weigler three months of free space to develop and rehearse From the Heart which is how he came on board for The Selfish Giant.