I was unabashedly delighted by the Guild Festival Theatre’s production of Anne. With its fragments of historic architecture amidst lush greenery, the Greek Theatre at Guild Park and Gardens is an ideal setting for this iconic tale of Anne Shirley—the imaginative, outspoken, red-braided orphan—who enchants the residents of the small P.E.I. town of Avonlea.
I’ve never read any of L. M. Montogemery’s Anne of Green Gables books, though I vaguely recall enjoying, as a child, the Megan Follows mini-series. The older I get, the more guilty I feel—as an avid reader and a Canuck—for not being more familiar with this classic of Canadian literature. My knowledge of the material being so limited, I can’t say how well Paul Ledoux’s stage play captures the spirit of the original, though I imagine it serves as a charming medley of highlights.
At the play’s opening, Anne arrives back in Avonlea after some time away. As she reconnects to friends and family, they reminisce about Anne’s first arrival in Avonlea many years before. Originally hoping for a boy to help on their farm, the middle-aged Cuthbert siblings who adopt Anne quickly warm to her precocious personality. That enthusiasm for Anne’s clever, spirited antics eventually spreads throughout Avonlea. Skipping back and forth between adult Anne’s reconciliations and her childhood friendships and heartaches, we discover how she and the community enrich each other.
Director’s Tyler Seguin and Helen Juvonen have crafted a warm and enticing melodrama that feels both heightened and authentic. The material is written to be somewhat broad and the performances fall neatly into the stylized aesthetic, but nothing ever feels bland or cartoonish. Filling the space with colourful, evocative gestures, this joyful cast makes the characters and their world, though simple, feel vivid and compelling.
Anne’s charisma and contagious exuberance are the core of the story and Claire Boudreau nails them. With her deeply expressive face and body language, she evokes an adolescent intensity that makes Anne’s moods feel enormous yet truthful. It’s easy to understand how the townsfolk could fall so hard for her giddy, fiery presence.
This playful production features simple yet inventive stagecraft that conjures some whimsical delights—a butterfly chase, a buggy ride through cherry blossoms and a comically perilous river boat incident. I hesitate to call these flourishes “clever,” as the word feels too flashy; the overall impression is gentler and more quietly persuasive.
Alex Eddington’s folksy songs, which the cast perform with gusto, are cheerfully catchy and add another layer of playfulness to an already buoyant presentation. In this outdoor venue, there is a delicate beauty in the way voices trail off into the open air.
The one aspect of this staging that feels somewhat distracting is an attempt to convey the specific geography of the Green Gables house. As characters move from room to room, they mime hallways, stairs and doorways with a precision that doesn’t seem particularly necessary here. This spacial awareness is a little stilted and breaks the energy of some scenes without adding much in the way of dynamic or useful visuals.
With our precarious world feeling so hostile, Anne provides a comforting change of scenery. If you’ve been feeling at all cynical or disaffected lately, you’ll likely appreciate this modest and sincere story of human connection and community. I sure did! With endearing characters that feel cozy and familiar, this trip to Avonlea brings belly laughs and a few tears. It is perfect for the whole family, though you may want to bring some bug spray just in case.