EXCITING TALE: Each character is portrayed through the vivid performance by the children. Photos courtesy of Hanoi Arts for Youth
by An Vũ
The last time I read French novelist Hector Malot’s Nobody’s Boy was when I was a sixth grader hiding in the old library of my old school. But last Thursday morning I was lucky enough to return to my childhood, as a friend invited me to watch the play adapted from the novel at Youth Theatre at 11 Ngô Thì Nhậm, performed vividly by a full cast of children.
There’s a first time for everything, and it was my first time watching Nobody’s Boy through the playful and pure eyes of the kids.
I want to give my appreciation to the Hà Nội Arts for Youth (HNAY) group, who came up with the idea of adapting and staging celebrated literature works on the Vietnamese stage. It took them a year to arrange and six months to rehearse the play.
The play was first introduced to audiences in the capital by the cast of 50 students selected from many schools around Hà Nội. Scriptwriter and stage director Nguyễn Hoàng Tùng had collected a vast experience with children, so he tried to make the play as close as possible to his dear little students. He knew the dialogue must be simple but sincere for the kids, so they could learn it by heart.
The scale of the stage was not huge, but the setting was designed by two in-house designers Nguyễn Trường Liên and Đoàn Hoàng Đan. They co-operated in building a miniature stage with a screen fitted to each change of scene, and limited use of props onstage to keep the children from being distracted.
As the curtain rises, the whole cast assembles, although some seem slightly exhausted due to consecutive hours of practice. They start the play with the excitement of being the heroes in their own story. The French mason Jerome Barberin finds a baby boy in Paris and brings him home to his wife, the loving foster mother Barberin to take care of him, naming him Rémi (NguyễnVăn Đạt).
When Rémi turns eight, Barberin loses a trial at court and decides to sell him off to a travelling artist, signor Vitalis who travels with three dogs Capi, Zerbino, Dolce, and a monkey, Joli-Coeur.
Although it was a play for children, I found the kids did their best to be as professional as adult actors. They must love the play and practise speaking English so much that they didn’t forget any single line. The children breathed fresh air into the story. The pronunciation was almost perfect, as they were given careful training from language teacher Johanette Corlia Pelcer.
The music was a compliment for the play, as composer Nguyễn Nhật Minh brought the Italian street melodies to life. Some slight mistakes were easily ignored since the kids were too adorable.
The play is strongly recommended to those who love classic novels, and also, children. I hope the HNAY continue to do more projects like this to create a real playground for children, as project producer Hoàng Thu Hường said, “We chose the musical because of its connection with the children. It is hard but we don’t need them to sing and speak English perfectly, we want to see their interest and admiration. Together, we wish to explore the hidden parts in childhood via the plays. It was not really a play, but an approach to arts.” VNS