Jack Nicholsen as Augie (clockwise from top)

Jack Nicholsen as Augie (clockwise from top)

Theatre Review: Come in from the cold with a warm ‘hygge’

Oh, the weather outside may be frightful, but out in the fields of Caravan Farm Theatre it’s delightful, with new winter play, Bedstefader.

Bundled under blankets, feet stuck in straw bales, even the north wind nipping at your nose can’t stop the warm feeling you’ll get from Caravan Farm Theatre’s new winter sleigh-ride production.

Bedstefader (or how grandfather finally came in out of the cold) has a beautiful aesthetic – think Lapland, without the reindeer, but with teeny tiny miniature horses. Instead of 24-hour darkness, here you have light, music, laughter, joy, and magic.

The show embraces the Danish concept known as “hygge” (pronounced “hooga”), which basically means cosiness. The Danes do this by sitting by a fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly sweater, drinking mulled wine while reading a book… you get the idea.

Despite the recent damp weather that wiped away any vestige of snow, this week’s opening performance at the farm still had a magical feel.

Pulled in a wagon through the rutted mud by our very strong trio of Norwegian Fjords, driven by very able teamster Mahina Rose, we bumped along to the back 40 (the large field on the northwest side of the farm’s property). With the light in the distance approaching closer and closer, it was like opening a present on Christmas morning, the sights before us enraptured.

Arriving at a home in the woods, we are led into the story, written by playwright Sean Dixon.

There, formidable father Torgier (Sean Sonier) is heating soup on an open fire for his two young girls, pragmatic Magdalena and her younger shoot-from-the-hip sister Ida (Georgina Beaty and Evelyn Chew, respectively).

They are missing their mom, who we learn has been gone from home for a year. But before you think this is a case of child abandonment, we are told that mom is out “transforming the world,” helping those less fortunate come out of the cold.

She’s like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman with a cause.

The cry of crows suddenly alerts us to a stranger, an old man named Augie (Jack Nicholsen), who walks by the girls’ home, carrying what could be best described as a twirling chandelier on a stick, which scares off the birds.

He’s what you would consider a transient, wandering the woods, hunkering down in caves, without a friend in the world.

The girls come up with a plan. Balancing a bowl full of soup, they chase after the man to show him kindness – for if they can help him, perhaps their mom will finally come home. However, those plans are thwarted once they track him down. You could say he is rather unreceptive, make that grumpy and mean, and he shoos them off.

That’s when the real magic arrives.

Emerging from the darkened woods is a sight to behold. We’re alerted, at first, by the jingle of bells as a back-lit carriage bearing a woman wearing a crown of antlers is pulled by the aforementioned teeny, tiny miniature horses. (These aren’t ponies, but fully grown horses owned and operated by Pritchard’s Steve Laughlin).

The arrival of amber voiced Falka (Rebbeca Auerbach) is the defining point of the play. A mythical-like being, she tells the girls where they may find the old man and help him come out of the coldness of his dark heart.

There’s more to this story with some familial connections, as you may have gathered from the subheading to Bedstefader (which actually means best father in Danish), however, in the end, all’s well that ends well.

It’s a sweet fable – a fairytale with a happy ending that will leave you with a warm feeling.

The fine acting, catchy and beautifully sung songs (written by Caravan’s AD and show director Courtenay Dobbie), and most notable, the incredible surrounds of field and forest add to the magic. Oh, and the horses, both the miniature team and the draught teams of Clydes, Percherons and Fjords (apologies to any I’ve left out) are the real heroes of Caravan.

Standing ovations must also go to the über talented human design team – Marshall McMahen (sets), Catherine Hahn (costumes), Stephan Bircher (lighting) and all the crew – on an incredible job of making this Scandinavian dreamscape.

It will make you want to embrace the “hygge” all winter long.

Caravan Farm Theatre’s presentation of  Bedstefader continues nightly at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. (except Thursday and Christmas Day) now until Jan. 3. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller in the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, or call 250-549-7469, or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.

Kristin Froneman is the arts-entertainment editor at the Vernon Morning Star.

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