Inspired Philippine mythology, this funny and heartwarming show takes family audiences to the fantastical land of Uwi—where a young Filipino-Canadian girl named Philly finds herself on a magical quest. One of several shows at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival that celebrate the Filipino culture, Through the Bamboo is a delightfully thrilling production.
The wife/husband writing team of Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos imbue the story with humour and giddy lyricism. We open with the performers relating the ancient tale of how the people and animals of Uwi have been forbidden by the ruler (Datu) from telling stories. This was his desperate response to the death of his wife, hoping to quell his grief. And so, here we are introduced to a key theme: memories as stories—fundamental to our sense of self and sense of connection.
After her grandmother (Lola) dies, Philly goes through heaps of boxes overflowing with memorabilia from her Lola’s life. She happens upon her malong which, when touched, suddenly transports her to Uwi. Once there, she is mistaken for the missing fourth daughter of Datu, Nale. In exchange for their help in getting her back home, the locals ask that she fulfill a prophecy: overthrow the remaining Three Sisters who have kept the land in a darkness without stories.
Angela Rosete conveys Philly with all the endearing gumption and bewilderment that typifies this type of fantasy story, where a courageous youth is thrust into an extraordinary situation that requires quick wits and emotional insight. She’s surrounded by an exuberant ensemble—Karen Archeta, Lana Carillo, Joy Castro, John Echano, Carolyn Fe, Nicco Lorenzo Garcia, Ericka Leobrera, Anthony Perpuse—though I must confess a special appreciation for the hilarious Marie Beath Badian’s offbeat portrayal of the quirkiest of the three sisters.
Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the story humanizes the three sisters—the villains. Though their reign is oppressive and must end, their behaviour is framed as the sad result of very relatable, human grief.
Director Nina Lee Aquino’s whimsical direction highlights that sense of dress-up and play that defines so many joyful childhood memories. The clutter of items collected from the grandmother’s life provide the costumes and props the performers wield—sometimes to hilarious or breathtaking effect. At key moments, the actors indulge in cheeky self-awareness that does more than just add humour; it provides an immediate context for the play’s discussion of stories and the process of telling them.
With minimalist production elements that highlight imagination and ingenuity, Through the Bamboo feels poignant, epic and immersive.