The Emperor's New Threads
By Melody Anderson and Peter Anderson. Directed by Peter Anderson. An Axis Theatre Company production at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on December 13. No remaining performances
The holiday season is a good time to remember that what glitters on the surface is a lot less important than what's underneath. The Emperor's New Threads delivered that lesson in a playful and, yes, stylish package.
Husband-and-wife team Melody and Peter Anderson offer a clever update of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about an emperor and his subjects who are taken in by a couple of con artists. Cornelius and Felix pose as master tailors, claiming to have woven a cloth that can only be seen by smart people who are good at their jobs. No one, including the Emperor, can see the cloth, but everyone pretends to, because they don't want to admit to being incompetent.
Under Peter Anderson's direction, the three actors in the cast delivered energetic and detailed physical comedy. Josue Laboucane, as the vain, pompous Emperor, donned his endless parade of outfits with panache, while easily riffing on comments from kids in the audience. Stefano Giulianetti's Felix was a winning combination of hyperkinetic and clumsy. Tanya Podlozniuk was assuredly crafty as Cornelius and refreshingly grounded in the show's only naturalistic characterization: the mother whose child (played by a puppet) is the one person brave enough to tell the truth about what the Emperor is wearing.
Alison Jenkins's original music, with lots of accordion and textured percussion, evoked a circus, and the Andersons' lyrics were both simple enough to hook the younger folks and sophisticated enough to satisfy the adults.
But the bulk of the credit for the show's magic belonged to Melody Anderson. Her custom-built masks exquisitely delineated individual personalities, which allowed the three actors to play a diverse array of characters. The sheer abundance of her costumes was dazzling, and her ingeniously designed set transformed to provide some of the play's most breathtaking moments–again revealing her unique gift for capturing and caricaturing the human face.
The Emperor's New Threads is already in its second season of touring schools, and has deservedly won awards. May it continue to have a good, long, well-dressed life.