In This ‘Lord of the Rings’ Adaptation, the Hobbits Yodel

“Where is Frodo?” an actress dressed as Gollum asked as she crawled past me, sounding slightly panic stricken.

It was the first thing I heard when I entered “Gigantic in Middle-earth” (“Riesenhaft in Mittelerde”), an ambitious immersive theatrical experience inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” The work is one of 10 productions selected for this year’s Theatertreffen, the annual springtime celebration of the best of German theater.

To step inside the elaborate staging, which originated at the Schauspielhaus Zürich, in Switzerland, was to plunge headlong into a lovingly prepared yet scrappy version of Tolkien’s fantasy world. As much a playful examination of Tolkien superfandom as it was a retelling of the author’s saga, the show came to life humorously, energetically and sometimes epically with music, puppetry, video, dramatic light, swirling fog and blowing leaves. The audience is in the midst of the action, sitting and standing among the nearly 20 constantly moving performers.

The forces required for this extravaganza, a collaboration between Schauspielhaus Zürich, Theater HORA and the Helmi puppet theater, were monumental. The show boasted four directors, including one of the Schauspielhaus’s artistic leaders, Nicolas Stemann, who also played piano throughout the evening.

“Gigantic in Middle-earth” is a collaboration between Schauspielhaus Zürich, Theater HORA and the Helmi puppet theater.Credit…Fabian Schellhorn

The most memorable performances came from members of Theater HORA. The Swiss company, which works with actors with cognitive and developmental disabilities, has recently been featured in weighty productions at the Salzburg Festival in Austria and in Liège, Belgium, that explored the challenges of living with Down syndrome and other conditions. Here, it was pure joy to watch HORA’s actors embrace their inner hobbits, dwarves, wizards, orcs and elves — including one that yodels!

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