The Hobbit at William Head on Stage (WHoS) – a review.

It’s a fair journey through the country roads of Metchosin for William Head on Stage’s production of The Hobbit, but definitely not as epic as the one travelled by the intrepid band of thespians interpreting Tolkein’s classic for our viewing pleasure.

Now in its 31st year (The Hobbit is their 51st), WHoS started as a final exam for prisoners taking the University of Victoria’s drama course, and is the only inmate-initiated, inmate-run theatre program inside a Canadian federal prison which opens its gates to a public audience.  Over the years, many members ofVictoria’s theatre community have lent a hand: in women’s roles, directing, providing workshops in acting, designing costumes, sets, music and lighting.

In her WHoS directorial début, Kate Rubin, The Countess in last year’s Gormenghast, chose to revive her earlier adaptation of The Hobbit, not realizing this year is the tale’s 75th anniversary and that the Peter Jackson film is set for release in December.

With the simple device of prisoners interacting just before shut-down, and one man reading a book, Rubin immediately catapults us from modern day to a time “Between the Dawn of Faerie and the Dominion of Men”.

This intrepid band – of wizard, hobbit and dwarves – wears denim and hoodies, a minimalist effect that counterpoints the more elaborate costumes of goblins, elves, and trolls, and the beautiful and intricate puppets created, with assistance from puppet master Tim Gosley (The Muppets, Fraggle Rock), by designer Carol Klemm and the WHoS production team.

Anne Cirillo (Gert) and Monica Prendergast (Thorin)

I’ve only recently re-discovered WHoS and was quite unprepared for the nature of this re-telling. In Chalk (2010) there were no words, and in Gormenghast (2011) the masks and makeup obscured actors’ visages.  Choosing a more naturalistic tone for make-up and costumes allows the audience to connect immediately with the actors.

Most people will be familiar with the tale of a quiet hobbit, happy to be minding his own business in The Shire, only to be caught up in a journey to recover the dwarves’ long-lost treasure in their traditional land, theMistyMountain. Aided by the wizard Gandalf, they encounter perils and kindness, culminating in the stupendous Battle of Five Armies.

Much as Bilbo is a recalcitrant participant in this escapade, K.D. admits he was minding his own business when called upon to take on the role.  As a youngster he was involved in many theatrical productions; as an adult, he brings Bilbo to life imbuing him with pluck, determination and a sense of wonder.

The company of actors takes on multiple roles, morphing effortlessly into various fantastical characters. The episodic nature of the quest, and the decision to use the entire space (stage and auditorium), results in fluid transitions from one scene to the next.

Many of the actors in The Hobbit have been carefully honing their craft over several years of involvement with WHoS – R.L.F (Gandalf) and C.A. (Gollum) began with Chalk, directed by Ingrid Hansen of Snafu Dance.  R.L.F. in particular remarks on the difficulty of learning vast blocks of text. His Gandalf is quietly imposing; his delivery adds measured authority to pronouncements.

The scene between Bilbo and Gollum (C.A.) is a fine display of physical prowess with underlying touches of menace and sly stealth. Riding a modified trolley, Gollum skims and slinks around the stage as he desperately searches for his “precious”.

Long time Rubin collaborator, Monica Prendergast plays Thorin, leader of the dwarves, as bombastic and hot-headed, but nevertheless, inspiring loyalty from the band. Serene and majestic Ethlinn (Bronwyn Steinberg) bears little resemblance to her alter-ego, a gangsta-wannabe Balin.  Anne Cirillo (Gert, the Wood Elf Queen), a WHoS supporter since 2007, does yeowoman’s duty in her roles.

Bronwyn Steinberg (Ethlinn)

Director, cast and crew of The Hobbit have dedicated months of hard work in order to bring this whimsical and wonderful re-telling of a timeless tale to life. Along the way, as they shared at a talk-back after the show, and much like the merry band of dwarves, they have learned lessons of perseverance, determination, camraderie and hard work. This is, indeed, an outcome to be applauded at all levels – artistically and personally.

I urge you to support them in their fantastical journey, and make the trek to William Head on Stage (WHoS) and The Hobbit.

The Hobbit, adapted and directed by Kate Rubin at William Head institution, 6000 William Head Road

Performance dates are: 

October 12 & 13, 19 & 20, 26 & 27 November 1, 2 & 3, 8, 9 & 10

Gates open to the public at 6:15 pm and close at 7:20, the performance will begins at 7:30.
No latecomers will be admitted.

Tickets are $20 and are available at the following outlets:

* My ChosenCafé – 4480 Happy Valley Road– 250-474-2333
* Ticket Rocket (online, by phone or in person)

W.H.o.S is located inside a Federal Institution. No persons under the age of 19 will be admitted. Picture I.D. must be shown. You may be electronically scanned. Money, wallets, purses, tobacco products, lighters and electronic devices of any type cannot be taken into the institution and must be locked in your vehicle or locker provided.

Disclaimer: I paid for my own ticket to attend the premiere of this show.  I was not paid to write a review nor was I required to do so. As always, I retain editorial control over all the content published on this blog

About @lacouvee

Community Builder. Catalyst. Speaker. Writer. Arts Advocate.

Passionate about bridging online and offline communities to effect positive change.

I truly believe that one person can make a difference and that we all have our own lives to live, creatively, while respecting the unique nature of others.


  1. […] Perhaps you’d rather have a theatrical Tolkien fix before the release of the movie later this year.  William Head on Stage presents a beautifully rendered adaptation of this classic tale.  My review is here: […]

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