Two years have passed since Alberta Theatre Projects premiered Rebecca Northan’s Legend Has It as part of the 2014 Enbridge PlayRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. Audiences who missed Northan’s award-winning comedy the first time now have the opportunity to catch it this holiday season at ATP.
Every night, one lucky audience member is chosen to star in an epic fantasy adventure to save the land of Jaro from the evil Haldor (Jamie Northan). Tonight’s hero is Phil, an electrician from Calgary, who the prophecy foretold would return peace to Jaro.
When Phil arrives in Jaro, he is greeted by a Mumpling named Maggie (Northan) who informs him that her people have been taken from their homes by Haldor and his minions. Maggie’s plan to save the Mumplings is made more urgent when her Gran (Christy Bruce) is captured. Phil and Maggie encounter the strange citizens of Jaro along their way to save Gran and the rest of the Mumplings.
Here’s the thing, the journey to Haldor’s castle will not be the same every night.
The magic of Legend Has It is that the entire show is improvised by Northan and the show’s ensemble. As well, the hero gets to customize their experience by choosing who will play their companion and who will play the villain. Think of the show as a real-life game of Dungeons & Dragons. The major difference from D & D is that, instead of dice or a pencil, the hero gets to wield a sword and fight in glorious slow-motion in front of 400 people.
Our hero Phil is a fast learner. He not only learns the ropes of stage combat – it’s all about the squat – but he also gets a handle on trading witty banter with the ensemble. The audience gets in the action, too, with their own comments. The theatre feels like a very communal space, full of good vibes.
Given the show’s improvised nature, surprise is literally around every corner. Some may feel uncomfortable with this, but rest assured the ensemble’s talent for improv is magnificent. There are certainly moments where the show goes off the rails, but these moments are far from disastrous thanks to the ensemble’s lightning fast wit. The actors roll confidently with the punches, finding opportunity in nearly every random element thrown their way.
While the ensemble may not be too concerned with presenting a serious epic like, say, Lord of the Rings, there is a genuine concern here by Northan to explore what heroism means. Northan brings notions of bravery from the realm of the epic to the everyday by asking Phil if he has ever lost anyone in his life, and how he overcame that loss. In doing so, Northan reminds us that life is itself an epic adventure, full of obstacles that we overcome everyday, making us each heroic in our own unique ways.
The show’s fantasy elements come alive thanks to Scott Reid’s marvelous castle set, and his lighting design. Reid’s dramatic lighting gives the slow-motion fight scenes a comical edge. Deitra Kalyn’s fantasy costumes feel as though they were plucked straight out of a Terry Pratchett novel. Jonathan Lewis’ original composition and sound design succeeds at underscoring the whimsy of Phil’s journey. Major praise for Ellis LaLonde’s ability to improvise sound cues on the fly.
Top to bottom, Legend Has It is this season’s ultimate feel good show. Northan’s comedy invites us to laugh, reflect, and maybe discover something new about ourselves. With all the recent bad news for Alberta’s economy, there could be no greater gift this holiday season than the gift of laughter. A win for Alberta Theatre Projects.
Alberta Theatre Projects’ Legend Has It runs November 24 – December 31, 2015.
Legend Has It was originally created by Rebecca Northan with Renee Amber, Bruce Horak, Mark Meer, and Jamie Northan.
For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://atplive.com/whats-on/legend-has-it/