To market, to market

Theatre Kingston brings a classic to the stage

Interpreted from Christina Rossetti’s Victorian poem, Goblin Market tells the provocative story of two sisters tempted by the forbidden fruits of symbolic goblin merchant men.
Interpreted from Christina Rossetti’s Victorian poem, Goblin Market tells the provocative story of two sisters tempted by the forbidden fruits of symbolic goblin merchant men.

After having the pleasure of reading Christina Rossetti’s Victorian poem “Goblin Market” for two English classes during my time at Queen’s, the chance to see a dramatic interpretation of the familiar piece was a welcome change of pace.

Unsure what to expect from Theatre Kingston’s incarnation of the provocative poem, I was immediately enveloped in the play’s musically cultivated transformation of the classic text into a production illuminating the powerful potency of love and kinship.

Directed by Queen’s drama department head Tim Fort, the theatre piece mirrors the dark and tumultuous tale of the poem. Goblin Market tells a story of sisterhood, morality, forbidden fruit and healing through the experience of pain.

Seemingly young and innocent sisters Laura and Lizzie hear the calls of goblins near their home each night. Although they’ve been careful not to fall prey to the goblins’ devices in the past, Laura strays down a glen bringing her into contact with the fruit-vending creatures. Laura becomes obsessed with the fruit offered to her by the seductive and dangerous goblin merchant men leaving the prudent Lizzie to step up and find the antidote required to save her sister’s life.

The two sisters are the only characters in the play, along with the titular goblins. The only actors on stage are Maryanne Wainman as the principled and responsible Lizzie and Robin Evan Willis as the free-spirited and curious Laura.

The characters are very much intertwined. Although their personalities oppose one another, their actions and mannerisms are alike. Dressed similarly in white frilled old-fashioned garb, their matching appearance adds to the depiction of their relationship as a close one.

The two women are familiar faces in Kingston; Wainman has been a member of the theatre scene since the age of eight and is a fourth-year student in English and Music at Queen’s. Willis, a Queen’s grad, performed at the Shaw Festival for her second season this year and holds her MA in Music Theatre from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England.

The actors’ breadth of performance and work is evident in their poignant performances.

Accompanied by Danielle Lennon on violin, Michael Man on keyboard and Sarah McCourt on cello, Wainman and Willis’ strong vocal skills are illuminated throughout the play.

The live instrumentation is particularly effective in setting the mood for the audience, reminding them of the goblins’ constant looming presence. In fact, the trio double as members of a spooky goblin mob who attack Lizzie in her attempts to rescue Laura’s spirit.

Composed by Polly Pen, the songs amalgamate key aspects of Rossetti’s text in the poem with abstract narratives guiding the play. The arrangements have a universally classical tone, with the vocals venturing into operatic at times, the layered harmonies held every audience member captivated.

The dark, mid-sized space of the Baby Grand Theatre has been transformed, draped in cream coloured tapestries and gauze-like sheets. The flowing curtains are used most effectively when Willis acts as a goblin with the addition of a mask, putting on a shadow show of sorts with only the silhouette of a warped and terrifying face glowing across the stage.

A fireplace positioned in the corner, an adjacent bed and antiqued pane window contribute to the 19th century feel to the play. The stage effectively bathed in a peachy warm glow, Tim Fort’s directorial duties overlapping with his work as set and lighting designer are beneficial to the production.

Feeding off of one another throughout the short show, Wainman and Willis are a team destined for greatness. Twirling and whirling around one another in their musical numbers and showing as much compassion and care for one another as if they were true sisters, the love shown between the characters is particularly reflective of the poem.

The connection between the sisters is perhaps the most memorable aspect of both the poem and the play, evident in the concluding lines of Rossetti’s text. It seemed only fitting the end of the play was on the note of mirroring the happy ending of the sisters entering a state of true sisterhood. “For there is no friend like a sister, In calm or stormy weather, To cheer one on the tedious way, To fetch one if one goes astray, To lift one if one totters down, To strengthen whilst one stands.”

Goblin Market shows at 8 p.m. at the Baby Grand Theatre until tomorrow. Tickets are $25.10 for adults, $17.75 for students and seniors, available at the Grand Theatre.

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