Theatre Review – The Elephant Girls

The very best live theatre is the stuff that piques the curiosity and sends the viewer off down a rabbit hole of learning and experience.

Shortly after my husband told me about an upcoming BBC series about the 40 Elephants, we came across a listing for Margo MacDonald’s one-woman play The Elephant Girls at Buddies in Bad Times. Part of Buddies Pride programming for this year, the play moves on to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

MacDonald tells the story of the 40 Elephants through the eyes of the fictional Maggie Hale (partially based on the real-life Maggie Hughes/Hill, a high ranking member of the group). The all-girl gang associated with the Elephant and Castle gang, and estimated to have been in existence for almost 200 years, came to their heyday in the 1920s when thirty or so of the women at a time would swarm shops like Selfridges, pocketing jewelry, cosmetics, clothes and accessories, then dump the stolen goods in a get-away car to be fenced.

First intrigued by the story of the 40 Elephants in author Brian MacDonald’s Gangs of London (no relation to the actor of this piece but he is the nephew of one of the main Elephant and Castle gang members from the era), Margo MacDonald has done extensive and diligent research into the gang to give voice and flesh to a small cast of the most important characters and events.

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Theatre Review – BOOM

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Rick Miller’s BOOM. Image from the BOOM website.

 

In my house, the correct answer to the question “Beatles or Stones?” is “The Kinks”; the defining event of 1969 is not the moon landing but the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family. Which is to say, and is probably said so often I might sound like a broken record, I don’t have a whole lot of interest in mainstream culture. Even if it’s from a different era.

For the Boomer generation, who are now well into retirement, the mainstream culture of their youth is what they’re now remembering fondly. Shake-ups, assassinations, fear of war, sure, but as a whole, the weird and wonderful bits of the era tend to be forgotten in favour of a sometimes idealized, sanitized collection of events.

Rick Miller’s BOOM, then, while brilliantly executed, visually breath-taking, and painstakingly researched, is the mainstream version of the Boomer story.

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Theatre Review – The Stronger Variations

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Christmas Eve – a woman walks into a cafe to see her friend, who also happens to be her husband’s mistress, sitting alone at a table. A confrontation ensues – one-sided, in which the wife talks and the mistress listens, reacting only via facial expressions or laughter. The play from 1889 by August Strindberg is a mere ten minutes long, but is so easily open to interpretation, to variances and nuances, that the variations Theatre Rusticle present under the direction of Allyson McMackon could be endless.

Set in the 1950s and originally presented with a cast of three (Liza Balkan, Viv Moore, Lucy Rupert) this most recent adaptation of the play runs with the addition of Chala Hunter and Andrya Duff, allowing even more variations as each actress takes turns playing either the wife or the mistress with the use of simple props such as a hat or a shopping bag full of presents.

The variations range from sweet and naive to bitter and pained; Moore (my friend and neighbour) offers the mistress as demon early on in one of the funniest interpretations; while Hunter and Duff, in a scene choreographed by Simon Fon, give us a full-on WWF-worthy knock-down drag-out cat fight complete with hair pulling and face scratching. Sure, it’s slightly predictable, but how else do you create momentum in a show that is the same dialogue over and over? Besides it was brilliantly executed and completely fun to watch. As was the delightful slipper dance scene. More poignantly, some variations appear to verge on emotional breakdown as the wife details how the mistress, without any contact or communication, seems to have inserted herself into the wife’s very soul.

While the bulk of the dialogue centres around a (slightly updated) version of Strindberg’s original play, McMackon has wisely added a few scenes of additional dialogue that give the characters more depth and empathy, such as each actor in the role of the mistress remembering their first kiss, or a scene where the wife runs around the stage as the other actors dance about, begging them to stop repeating the same sad story – after all, the work, written in 1889, is still relevant today.

In fact, I desperately wanted a variation where wife and mistress commiserated, said “ahhh, to hell with him and his stupid slippers with the tulip embroidery” and shared a drink while they trashed dear husband and his philandering ways. But Strindberg’s original theme remains clear; despite the wife’s claims of inner strength, or the audience’s hope she will achieve some form of self-actualization – family – home and family, come first. Has she fought for her man and won, or is she the sad loser headed home to the man who cheated on her?

The Stronger Variations runs at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until December 7th.

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Here, There, Everywhere Vermeer

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The inscrutable Johannes Vermeer – a limited number of photo-realistic paintings, not a great deal of information available about the painter himself (at a time when artists tended to be very proud of the CVs), x-rayed works that show no sketches on the canvas meaning he worked without an outline, and an ongoing furor over his works – and techniques – more than 300 years after his death.

I’ve had a whole lot of Vermeer synergy happening lately – he’s popping up everywhere, it seems, and here are a couple of things that I’d recommend to anyone interested in his work and, almost more intriguingly – the interest that others have in his work.

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Theatre Review – Concord Floral

ConcordFloral

Do you remember being bullied as a teenager? Pretty much anyone who was ever a victim can probably relate their experiences down to the last detail – the pain, the humiliation, the embarrassment. But what about if you were the bully? By all accounts, the flow of time for bullies is elastic and forgiving, and the memories of the terrible things they once did fade easily in the glow of victory.

Or so it would seem. And this is my one issue with the otherwise stellar Concord Floral.

Set in an abandoned greenhouse and adjacent field in Vaughan the ten teenage actors of Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral tell the story of a prank gone awry. A cellphone gets dropped, onto and then into, the remains of a dead girl. As she contacts the girls who discovered her via the left behind phone, the teens must come to terms with the energy and emotions she creates, ultimately accepting their own roles in what happened to her.

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