The unlikely friendship between a pig and a spider, not to mention a whole barnyard full of characters, is the stuff of childhood memories, Charlotte’s Web having charmed many of us since its publication in 1952.
The latest iteration of E. B. White’s classic tale is set to hit the stage thanks to the newly launched Centre Wellington Theatre Productions.
Building on the many themes of the novel, including friendship, the circle of life, and being an outsider, the stage adaptation brings the story to life.
“I felt that it was something that hadn’t been done (locally) but, apart from that, as a new theatre group we really wanted to make our presence known in the community as a family-oriented group, so we are really focusing on putting on family shows,” said director Jennifer Milne on the decision to stage Charlotte’s Web.
The runt of a litter, Wilbur (played by Harry Follon and then Ray Kavanagh) gets adopted by Fern Arable (Brooke Stoltz) and a bond starts to form between the two. Once bigger, Wilbur is sold to Fern’s uncle, Homer Zuckerman (Steve Johnson), who plans to eventually slaughter the pig for his meat.
In his new environment Wilbur finds himself feeling lonely. “He’s with these new creatures that he’s never met before or encountered before. They all have known each other so he’s the outsider, he’s the newcomer. The only one that really does seem to embrace him at first is Charlotte and he’s the only one that seems to embrace her as well,” Milne explained.
A new friendship forms between the Wilbur and Charlotte (Oriana Abrahamse).
“The two actors that play Wilbur and Charlotte started doing rehearsals by themselves two weeks beforehand so that they could really develop that relationship and discuss how this unlikely friendship did occur – spiders are not a creature that are loved by a whole lot of people,” Milne added.
The pair of animals start talking every day and the other creatures in the barn start to open up to Charlotte, who was considered an outsider before Wilbur showed up. Charlotte hatches a plan to prevent Wilbur from being slaughtered.
Through a rollercoaster of emotions during the performance the audience is able to connect with the story like they never have before, Milne says, with a lot of tender moments mixed with humour.
“We certainly have something for everybody in there.”
Though successful in keeping Wilbur from being slaughtered as winter approaches, Charlotte’s own brief lifespan runs it inevitable course as the year winds down. Her passing causes the barn animals to react in sadness such that they truly understand what it was like to have a friend like her.
“’It’s kind of neat how you see the cycle of life, then of course Charlotte’s death brings on her babies at the end, which is really sweet. We got three sweet little girls that play the baby spiders at the end who are just adorable,” said Milne. “We ended on a very happy note with the birth of her babies and they become friends with Wilbur and the rest of the barn animals as well.”
As a new theatre group, there is a focus on making a presence in the community, said Milne, noting that’s why they started off with a light-hearted performance that is known and loved by many.
Alongside Milne, is Simon Lebovitz and Denise Gismondi, who are supporting with the production but eventually they will alternate their roles and take turns at directing future performances.
“We are taking everything we have learned from our experience – combined we’ve got over 100 years of theatre experience together. We’re bringing in a fresh new approach and quality theatre at a reasonable price that people can afford,” Milne said of the team.
The rehearsals for the play started back in August where the crew met three times a week to practice and learn the story. Now they are ready to put the show on the stage November 14-17 at Melville United Church in Fergus. The two shows on November 16 and 17 will be matinee performances that will go on at 2 p.m., while the rest of the shows start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children, available for purchase online or by calling 519-787-1981.