UNHOLY is a play about whether or not today’s women need religion. Primarily this is because most organized religions, dominated by men, have institutionalized virulent misogyny. These religions have mostly failed to promote women’s rights, causes, or aspirations. This is a controversial issue and therefore, ripe for dramatic conflict.

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Playwright Diane Flacks is a serious thinker. She does her homework, creating characters that represent the different points of view. She conjures four women, placing them in the context of a TV debate panel, three who believe in God and one avowed atheist. The women are played by Barbara Gordon (an ex-nun), Niki Landau, an orthodox Jew, Bahareh Yaraghi (a Muslim), and Diane Flacks, a Jewish atheist. Blair Williams plays the male referee of the debate, posing questions and working to keep the debate upbeat.

This production of the work is ideally adapted for and staged in ZoomerHall, perfectly rigged for broadcasting and taping TV shows, in Liberty Village. In this incarnation of Unholy, the audience is actually part of the taping of this production.


The debate commences and the characters spar and verbal sparks fly. Flacks has fashioned characters who are more complex than mere mouthpieces for their various arguments. We get background on each woman. For example, Barbara Gordon plays a Catholic nun who was defrocked immediately after her male superiors discovered she had permitted a hospital abortion, in order to save the mother’s life. As the feisty ex-nun, she retains her Catholicism, and continues to fight the restrictions of her religion. As with all the women, we discover their private secrets during the debate, and off. We see what drives them to believe the things they do. We even look in on a behind-the-scenes lesbian affair.

The actors are all accomplished and turn in convincing performances. In Unholy, it becomes apparent that the intellectual arguments support each woman’s emotional needs. Whatever a person says they “believe” is really an explanation for what they require to fill the emptiness they all seem to share. The way each woman “interprets” the Bible or the Quran depends on what they need to support their beliefs.

On the surface, Unholy is a drama concerned with matters of the soul. But somehow, it doesn’t feel that way. While the central tension of the play rings true, the conflict between belief and practice, some intangible ingredient is missing. Perhaps spiritual matters are best revealed through more dramatic action , not through discussion or debate. The play is full of verbal pyrotechnics. Still, the heated exchanges contain little of the power and clarity of a simple parable. The work is clever, but lacks a certain resonance.


The only religions covered in Unholy are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, perhaps the most male-dominated and sexually repressive faiths around. In these male-ruled religions, women have traditionally played a minor role. To put this work in historical context, not all religions are as sin and guilt-ridden as the three “desert religions” described in Unholy. Watching the play makes one mindful of earlier pagan religions, populated by vibrant and powerful female gods. These include goddesses such as Artemis, Aphrodite, Athena, and Isis, the mother god of Egypt. Before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the pagan world was a landscape filled with marvellous deities, both male and female.

Adapting centuries-old dogma to fit the yearnings of 21st century women is a major task indeed. If one is passionate about religious beliefs, either pro or con, one should find this show engrossing.

Photos from ZoomerMedia website

Copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

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Hit ‘stoner’ comedy takes off!


In January, 2004, the decent folk of Barrie, Ontario, had their innocence shattered. On a far-fetched tip, the police swarmed a huge building, once the site of the Molson’s brewery, and discovered that the vast space had been secretly converted into Canada’s “biggest indoor marijuana farm” or “grow op”. The police and the entire country were stunned by what was uncovered.


Apparently, and unbeknownst to all, teams of workers had toiled 24 hours a day, endlessly, “caring for more than 30,000 high-grade marijuana plants that produced an annual cash crop worth an estimated $100-million.” All this had gone on a few feet from the major highway, making it easy to ship the product. Barrie was scandalized. And the whole mess made national news.

Now, Alex Dault, artistic director of Theatre by the Bay, and a skilled creator of historical plays, has penned Northern Lights, a wild comedy, inspired by this amazing “mother of all police raids”.

While the idea for Northern Lights springs from the original drug bust, the work quickly vaults into classic farce, full of mistaken identities, misunderstood motives, unravelling strategies, and adventurous escapes.

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Farce, by its nature, is revelatory and perverse. It shows human society as having a thin surface of reason, decorum, and balance. In fact, that brittle surface can snap at any given moment, madness drowning all. Human institutions and personal aspirations are mocked. With farce, not much is sacred.

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In addition to a seditious plot, Dault imaginatively creates a wide array of screwy characters, everyone from respected townsfolk to the more sketchy types who labour away in the dank and purgatorial dope factory. Further, as the play unfolds, the successful drug business seems linked to other activities, implicating the exalted world of high art. All scandals are discreetly connected, and when one breaks, they all roll into full view, like pearls scattering across the floor.

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While specific to Barrie, Northern Lights is gleefully universal, and a tremendous amount of fun. You don’t have to love weed to love this play. The comedy also celebrates one of Canada’s most honored traditions, that of marketing illegal contraband. Lest we forget, many of the country’s most respected families got rich during the American Prohibition, smuggling whiskey into the U.S.A.

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Northern Lights begins when one of the young workers in the indoor farm gets caught crossing the American border. A great deal of marijuana is found concealed in his car’s tires. The frightened worker makes a call to his Mom back in Barrie, and asks her for an astronomical sum of money to get him out of mischief. Instead, she feels her son’s employer should bear the responsibility for his “work-related” problem. Angered, she marches right down to the “office” and confronts “management”. There, Mom is mistaken as the always unseen and murderous drug lord who remotely runs the grow op. From this point on, things get sorely out of hand and the lunacy escalates.

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Both set and lighting, designed by Joe Pagnan, are latent with subtle and shocking ambiance. We see only a row of low stools, each stool in the shape of an alphabetical letter, spelling out the name “MOLSONS”. The painted stage floor starts to undulate, if you stare at it long enough. With liftoff, Northern Lights is rather like Alice in Wonderland laced with all kinds of acrobatics, dance scenes, and visual tricks so unexpected, your eye brows nearly shoot off your face in amazement. While the play opens in the “grow-op” and it isn’t long before the whole audience is sucked down the rabbit hole, and dropped in Mad Hatter Land.

Alex Dault, who both wrote and directs this work, has assembled a wicked cast that works well together. One remembers each actor, but I must mention Tim Fitzgerald Walker, playing an incompetent American drug agent. Walker, a well-known Toronto actor, is surely a comic treasure. It’s worth the price of admission just to see his on-stage antics, not to mention the costumes he wears. As well, John Fray is an incredible chameleon playing the part of the intensely manic plant manager, Long Legs, not to mention another character, Fish Farm Johnson, who seems to have pioneered some type of fetishistic obsession. Barbara Clifford, Janet-Lynne Durnford, Joanna Keats, Tom Ketchum, Frank Kewin, Vivian Or, and Chloe Payne all bring high voltage energy to their parts. In particular, Chloe Payne is incredible at mime movements, so well suited to this kind of comic venture.

To me, Northern Lights is a breakthrough for Alex Dault, as an artistic director, playwright, and director. With meagre resources, and the hard work of the producer/general manager, Iain Moggach, Theatre by the Bay has created this wonderfully fetching and commercial comedy. I can only hope this cheeky farce makes it to Toronto, and every other city where audiences love to laugh.

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Crew of Northern Lights:
Director/Playwright: Alex Dault
Iain Moggach: Producer
Production Manager: Beth Elliot
Assistant Production Manager / Assistant Set Designer: Rosalind Naccarato
Stage Manager: Becky Wong
Assistant Stage Manager: Jenn Burns
Set Designer: Joe Pagnan
Costume Designer: Claire McMillan
Composer / Music Designer: Joshua Doerksen
Production Assistant: Emily Bradford
Voice Coach: Leah Holder
Fight Choreographer: Erin Eldershaw
Choreographer: Brandon Crone
Dramaturg: Emma McKenzie Hillier
Props Master: Vera Oleynikova
Assistant Director: Richard Varty

Photos by: Jordan Probst




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Glowing Production of New Work

“The dancers are all gone under the hill.” – T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

Leaving home, or making a new one, is an essential part of human history. But if you ask anyone what home “is”, you’d get a thousand different answers. Home is really a state of mind. It can be where family is, or it can be a location on a map. One might even find “home” in another’s arms.


Left to Right: Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic, Siobhan O’Malley, Leah Holder, Cesare Scarpone. Cast of Mary of Shanty Bay. Photo by Bryan Harris.

This notion of home lies at the centre of Theatre by the Bay’s new drama, Mary of Shanty Bay. The work, written by Leah Holder, is drawn from the diaries of Mary Sophia Gapper, who lived 200 years ago. Holder has taken these scribblings, creating both an adventure and romantic drama out of them, a tale of a woman and a man in love, and allowing their sturdy alliance to help found Shanty Bay, a village just outside of Barrie, Ontario. The resulting drama, Mary of Shanty Bay, is not only engrossing, this particular staging sets in motion ripples across time and imagination.


Mary of Shanty Bay photo

Foreground: Leah Holder and Cesare Scarpone. Background, left to right: Siobhan O’Malley, Isaish Thomas Kolundzic, and director Brandon Nicoletti. Photo by Bryan Harris.

The play is staged mere feet from where Mary and her husband lie buried, in the graveyard of St. Thomas Anglican Church, a church they helped to build. The play, in this setting, becomes timeless, and has echoes of a “village pageant”, a re-enactment of history that is really a continuation of generations. One is very aware, especially at the start of the play, that Mary is torn between leaving family and history in one land, and creating new ones in another. At the start, it’s as if her soul is being ripped apart, immigrating to a new country. But instead of dying, her spirit reaches outward, opening a new chapter in Canada.


The drama is taken from passages in Mary’s journals, which are details about what she sees, her feelings, her travels, and of the people in her life. Originally, her plan is simple. She intends to have a singular “adventure”, coming to Canada for a year, visiting her brother, and then, returning to England, to live with her sister. Her destiny, she believes, is to help raise her sister’s children and live life as a spinster, forever unwed.

But in the course of the year, all that changes. She is approached by Benjamin Thorne, a wealthy merchant who wishes to wed her, and then by the man she falls in love with, Edward O’Brien, a retired officer. In settling on Edward, she sets in motion their mutual destiny, helping to found Shanty Bay, and building a church.

Held in the community centre next to the church, this production is memorable, due to the committed work and imagination of everyone involved. The play’s language is articulate and eloquent, as Mary is of the gentry and is fluent in reading and writing. It’s always dicey to turn literary prose journals into living drama, with interesting dialogue and action. It can come off as stiff, forced, and boring. But with Mary of Shanty Bay, everything works. Director Brandon Nicoletti has taken this long work, which runs over two hours, and moved it at a swift pace, without losing any passion.



Leah Holder and Cesare Scarpone. Photo by Bryan Harris

Leah Holder, the playwright, also plays Mary Gapper with a lovely mix of genteel curiosity and grit, giving us a woman who is tenacious enough to live in what is really a wilderness. But on stage, Leah Holder really comes into her own when she is matched with Cesare Scarpone, who plays her husband, Edward O’Brien, a retired officer on half pay. In this role, Scarpone displays an easy confidence, cheer, and masculine grace on stage. Together with Leah Holder, these two actors communicate a patience, respect, and enjoyment of each other that adds a terrific sparkle to the whole drama. They seem so genuine and determined, the audience believes such a couple could found a town, or survive any struggle.


Photo by Bryan Harris - Mary of Shanty Bay

Siobhan O’Malley and Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic in Mary of Shanty Bay, by Leah Holder. Photo by Bryan Harris

Siobhan O’Malley and Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic play several and distinct characters so convincingly, I forgot the entire cast consists of only four actors. Director Brandon Nicoletti shows a special talent here. He knows how to pick actors and he knows how to bring out the best in them. I’ve seen scores of historical productions that would put anyone to sleep, but Mary of Shanty Bay is alive with details, dramatic tension, inventiveness, and atmosphere that hold your interest. For much of that, one must credit Natalia Tcherniak (set design) and Claire McMillan (costumes), as well as sound designer, Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski.  Others essential to this successful venture include Jason Thompson (lighting designer), Vera Oleynikova (propsmaster), and Rosalind Naccarato, the assistant set designer.

By the way, tickets have sold extremely well for this show, and I urge anyone who can to make every effort to see it. Theatre professionals in particular would benefit from catching this little jewel.


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Director Brandon Nicoletti. Photo by Burke Campbell

St. Thomas Anglican Church
28 Church Street, Oro-Medonte (Shanty Bay), Ontario
May 25th- June 10th
(Previews May 23rd, May 24th)
7:30 PM and 2:00 PM performances available.

Photos: Bryan Harris, of Bryan Harris Photography


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Triumphal Chariot



Running ensemble in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo: Christina Kuefner.

Chariots of Fire has opened in London, Ontario. It’s a stage version of the early 1980s Academy Award winning film of the same name. The original stage adaptation had its premiere in London, England in 2012, and now, the Grand Theatre is the first to produce it in North America. Those who know the movie remember the film is set during the 1924 Olympics, with the English and Scots competitors preparing and then traveling to France for the Games.

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Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

It’s impossible to communicate in words the vast, innovative, and moving spectacle that is the Grand’s version of Chariots of Fire. The building itself is the crown jewel of Canadian theatres, a gorgeous structure opened in 1901. But this time, director Dennis Garnhum and designer Bretta Gerecke have altered the gigantic space to envelop the audience, as if we all sit inside a giant music box, watching all manner of enchantment float about us. Racing tracks are installed so that the athletics can run about and through the audience seated in the orchestra, balcony, and sports bleachers installed on the stage. A vast reflective surface hangs high above the stage so that those facing it can also see action taking place in the balcony. The audience isn’t merely watching a play. The audience is in it.

The overall experience is one of time-travel. We’re inside of a theatre that easily dates back to the Victorian period and the 1924 Olympics, but it is being used with a technology and theatricality that clearly belongs to today.


Erin Breen as Jennie Liddell in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

The drama of Chariots of Fire hinges on ethical conflicts that arise over the marathon races at the 1924 Olympics. One man from Scotland, Eric Liddell (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) runs for God, refusing to violate his faith by running on the Sabbath. Another, Harold Abrahams (Harry Judge), tarnishes the “gentlemanly” norms of his school by hiring a professional sports trainer to coach him for an amateur competition. Abrahams is clearly obsessed with “winning” at the Olympics, a rather vulgar “modern” notion, but what drives him is never clear to himself, or others.


Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell and the running ensemble in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

Such conflicts appear slight by today’s standards, hardly worth calling for the discreet intervention of the British government, as they do in the drama. After all, most today don’t see anything wrong with running on a Sunday, and it’s quite normal for an amateur to hire a professional coach. One must truly evoke a past era of Victorian class, morality, manners, and social norms to hold our interest. Director Dennis Garnhum seems to realize this, and drives his full cast and crew to pull us headlong into another time.


Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell with running ensemble in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

Across the years, I’ve watched many directors, acclaimed for their flash and circus tricks, who cleverly sidestep depth or meaning. Dennis Garnhum is more serious, finding ways to illustrate the text, enhancing in large and small ways, what the play is actually about. In Chariots of Fire, you can feel him thinking about each scene, deciding how to make its points in the most cogent fashion. As he demonstrated in his holiday show, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Garnhum is a special artist. More than a director, he is an alchemist, using all the elements of the stage to conjure a heightened sense of amazement and expectancy.


Ellen Denny and Anwyn Musico in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

There are special delights in each performance of the large cast, but the real “star” of the show is the fact that such a large group works seamlessly as one, like clockwork, and each actor has a special moment. There is also something so wonderful about the Grand, getting to see young actors like Josh Buchwald, Liam McKeiver, Leah Gliddon, and Connor Overton shine in a great and unique production.

One of the appealing qualities of Chariots of Fire is that it recalls a time when people conducted themselves in a more courteous and civil manner. But Chariots of Fire is not simply a nostalgic romp about a bygone era. Today, we view the Victorian period as one of sexual repression and rigid social conformity. To us, those people appear “quaint”. But the epoch was also a time of genuine ideals, politeness, of refined and respectful behavior. Inherent in this production is a comparison of two worlds. We get to contrast the times of “ladies and gentlemen” when viewed from the Age of Trump.



Anwyn Musico as Sybil Evers and Harry Judge as Harold Abrahams in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

I recommend Chariots of Fire for everyone, especially those who work in theatre. Certainly every director and producer should see it, as well as actors and designers. For all those who enjoy theatre of the high standards of the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, or Broadway, I suggest you dash to the Grand in London, Ontario.


Full Cast and Production Team:

I’d like to mention that the title sponsor for “Chariots of Fire”/ Grand Theatre production is 3M. This type of corporate commitment to the arts is vital and a great gift to any community.

All photos: Christina Kuefner



Harry Judge as Harold Abrahams and Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.


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Sarah Orenstein as Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’ drama, The Glass Menagerie. The McManus Stage at the Grand Theatre, London, Ontario

“After watching several productions of this classic drama across a lifetime, for me, the Grand Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is definitive.” – Burke Campbell

Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical drama, The Glass Menagerie, premiered in 1944, nearly 75 years ago. It is a simple story. Amanda, an aging Southern belle, deserted by her husband, lives in a dingy apartment in St. Louis, Missouri, along with her children, Tom and Laura. Laura, partially lame and chronically shy, attends business school while brother Tom spends his days toiling in a shoe manufacturing plant. In an attempt to snare her handicapped daughter a better life, Amanda pressures Tom to find Laura a “gentleman caller”, a suitable man who will marry and care for her. Amanda, a formidable parent, constantly reminds her children that in her youth, she was endlessly pursued by hordes of eligible suitors. She chose one, their father. This proved to be her one big mistake. He abandoned Amanda, and his children to their fate.

This, in a nutshell, is The Glass Menagerie, a work that instantly became a classic of the American stage. But out of hundreds of family dramas, why has this one endured?


Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as Tom in Tennessee Williams’ drama, The Glass Menagerie

Part of its success lies in Williams’ gift of language. The writer was raised in the American South, where the spoken word carries the cadence of the Bible. Too, Williams was schooled in “gossip”, which shapes information into stories through repetition, inventiveness, and dramatic delivery. Gossip must also entertain, instruct, and draw the listener deeper into described events. By use of language, the playwright created a knowing and spoken music for the stage.


Amy Keating as Laura and Alexander Crowther as “The Gentleman Caller” in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie is a “memory play”, drawn from events in Williams’ own life. Tom (based on the playwright himself) doubles as both the play’s narrator and a character in it. But the play is not merely a tale of events recalled. Profoundly, it portrays memory as an active and determining force in our existence. Memory can be a deceitful mirror of how we view our lives. What we remember and how we choose to see ourselves in memory often determines the path of all of our relationships. Memory itself is the central character in this drama — faceless, ghostly, and enormously powerful.


Most productions I’ve seen of this work, on stage, film, and television, have been overly reverential, plodding, and shorn of fun. But the minute we enter into the McManus Stage at the Grand Theatre, we anticipate a radically new approach. The work is presented in-the-round, with the audience encircling the stage. The space feels both intimate and expansive. Above us floats a gorgeous rope of babbles, purple lights, reminiscent of a strand of large pearls or of intersecting circles. This abstract shape comes to symbolize many lines in the play. As in memory itself, one object suggest one meaning, and later, another.


Amy Keating and Sarah Orenstein in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie

The action takes place in the 1930s, in the dreary apartment where the family lives. Traditionally, The Glass Menagerie is presented on a set, dimly lit; cluttered with furnishings. But for this production, designer Nick Blais leaves the stage mostly bare, only appointed with a few key items. In freeing the stage of a “realistic” look, we can more clearly focus on how memory functions. How it can both illuminate and falsify events. This gives the drama a greater echo, an echo amplified by the dreamscape of sound and music that designer Christopher Stanton provides.

Most important, director Megan Watson understands the “tone” of the work, and pays close attention to each line in the text. This is a very “talky” play, and Watson cultivates the vibrant humour of the work, as well as its abundant zaniness. The director’s attention to the comic elements in the drama makes this production both delightful and devastatingly poignant. Everything comes together under her artful orchestration, revealing the power, meaning, and intent of the words. This is one of the clearest examples I’ve seen of a directorial hand taking on a classic, brushing away old ideas, and fully revitalizing it.


Amy Keating and Alexander Crowther in The Glass Menagerie

Sarah Orenstein, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Amy Keating, and Alexander Crowther — all accomplished actors — are each incandescent in their parts. But what is so wondrous is how effortlessly they work together, their interaction as flawless as the subtle music and thoughtful lighting that floats about them.

This Glass Menagerie will have a successful run. My only hope is that it tours, or at the very least, comes to Toronto. This is a production that deserves filming, as an example of the splendid talent this country has produced. Everyone associated with this show should be very proud, including the Grand Theatre’s Artistic Director, Dennis Garnhum. In fact, the city of London, Ontario, should realize it is creating theatre as important and sophisticated as anything done in much larger centres.


All photos provided by The Grand Theatre.

© Burke Campbell


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Maev Beaty and Jesse LaVercombe. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

First produced at the Stratford Festival, and written by Hannah Moscovitch, BUNNY is a play about a girl, Sorrell, nicknamed “Bunny”. Bunny grows up, discovers puberty, and takes to sex like a rabbit takes to carrots. Bunny enjoys a large number of lovers, most of whom would be inappropriate by any standard. Are her sexual adventures innocent and beyond societal judgement? Or do they represent a darker force lurking behind a child-like persona?


Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Lights go up on a woman on stage. She begins to relate the tale of a young girl named “Bunny”. Slowly, we realize this narrator (played by Maev Beaty) is talking about herself at various stages in her development. The narrator soon morphs into Bunny, who then meets and interacts with a wide range of characters.


Tony Ofori and Maev Beaty. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Maev Beaty plays Bunny with charm and a kind of moral blankness that leaves one with mixed feelings both about the character and the playwright’s intent. Is Bunny a person trying to find “herself”, an advanced woman, sexually liberated, or is she really a person with an incomplete soul, one who walks through life, leaving emotional wreckage, intentionally or not?


Maev Beaty and Cyrus Lane. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Bunny’s parents are morally righteous academics, armchair intellectuals who abhor capitalism and consumerism. They dress Bunny in shapeless recycled clothing which hides her blossoming physique. Bunny doesn’t use computers and iPhones so she doesn’t actually relate to other kids or their lifestyles. Bunny’s only companions are the novels she reads, mostly Victorian.


Rachel Cairns and Maev Beaty. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Intellectually robust, Bunny never really understands herself, which leaves her in the dark about what others might feel. She attempts to follow “social norms”, be a good person, and have sex with appropriate parties. Still, for Bunny, sex is more of a sensation, rather than an awakening. She loves it, but it doesn’t seem to teach her much. Importantly, she does not fully grasp that sex in any form has consequences. She seems particularly clueless in this area. Bunny rarely reveals her feelings. This leaves her in the dark about what she feels and how others feel about her. Even her nickname “Bunny” is meant to suggest her frightened, tremulous quality. Fearful people are often full of rage, and deploy it in ingenious ways.


Maev Beaty and Matthew Edison. Photo: Cylla von Tiedeman

Everyone, especially a young audience, should see Bunny, if only because the cast is excellent. Rachel Cairns, Matthew Edison, Cyrus Lane, Jesse LaVercome, Tony Ofori, and Gabriella Albino are all quite terrific. It’s rare that one sees such a well-matched team of actors, and director Sarah Garton Stanley know how to showcase each one. Maev Beaty does a fine job as Bunny, but I would have preferred that she suggested more of Bunny’s cunning. There is something not very nice about Bunny, and I feel that on some level, Bunny knows she intends to hurt those she sleeps with, or wound those close to them.


Jesse LaVercombe and Gabriella Albino. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Maev Beaty – Sorrel
Rachel Cairns – Maggie
Matthew Edison – Carol
Cyrus Lane – The Professor
Jesse LaVercombe – Angel
Tony Ofori – Justin
Gabriella Albino – Lola
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley


All photos: Cylla von Tiedemann

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Noah Reid - Photo: Jim Ryce

Noah Reid as Hamlet. Photo by Jim Ryce

Tarragon Theatre’s presentation of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is not for purists. Those looking for a standard-issue staging of the Bard will freak at this production.
This show is bare bones and the stage is mostly stripped, with only a row of microphone stands and a few chairs. We’re in a smoky, darken nightclub, sliced open with harsh spotlights, and a piano stashed in the corner. While the production follows the text, the words are anticipated and followed by a musical score that snakes around the emotions of this unfolding tragedy. Many of the actors play instruments, including Noah Reid as Hamlet, wearing this generation’s moniker, a hoodie. He’s gads about this darkened world, like the unruly son of a corporation’s CEO, rather than a Prince of Denmark.


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Noah Reid as Hamlet. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

It’s a catchy idea, but what makes this production work, and what makes it fascinating, is the acting, the details, and the thinking that went into it. This show has flashes of intellectual rigour, and a capable cast. Tarragon’s Hamlet has solid team work, and when the engine is turned on, this Hamlet hums along at a clip, keeps you entertained, and jacked-up.


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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

If you’re game, you’ll love it. Not everything works, but most of it reminds us how sharp this play is.


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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Hamlet really stands or falls on the actor who plays the character of Hamlet. To my mind, Noah Reid delivers one of the most lucid, intriguing, and deeply felt Hamlet I’ve ever seen. He does so because he doesn’t play the Prince as some sort of tormented wreck, lurching from one scene to the next. Instead, he gives us a sharp, nibble prince, and one who is emotionally cut to the quick.


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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

As the play opens, the King, Hamlet’s father, has just died suddenly, of mysterious causes. Then, almost immediately, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, abandoned her widowhood and married Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, and the King’s brother.


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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

This has all happens so rapidly, it leaves Hamlet reeling. As if this isn’t enough, Hamlet believes he sees his dead father’s ghost. The ghost, represented only by a voice, explains that he, the King, was in fact murdered by Claudius who now sits, unlawfully, upon the throne, the King’s wife in tow.


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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

It’s often commented that all of these events cause Hamlet to fall into “melancholy” or depression. But Hamlet isn’t “depressed” in a conventional sense. He’s in shock. His reality has been blown away, and he’s left walking through a familiar world he no longer belongs to. He’s as alert as if he’s walking through a mine field, and weirdly, this gives the play a sense of dangerous fun.


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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Now, as Prince, Hamlet “feigns” madness as he plays the detective, trying to put together evidence in order to justify his plan to avenge his father’s murder. But is Hamlet mad? Or does he merely pretend to be so, to gain time for his plan. But Reid’s performance suggests that Hamlet himself is never sure if he’s mad or not. Reid dices with his internal demons, and as he does so, he gains our trust and deeper pity. Hamlet tries to act, but winds up merely “reacting”. This seems quite consistent for a man for whom reality has no hard lines, no hard walls. Where all are lies and whispers. Where the whole court holds power through “fake news”?
There are all kinds of stand out performances. Nigel Shawn Williams is a likeable, practical-minded Claudius who grows more desperate as Hamlet’s anarchy spreads across the court; Tiffany Ayalik is a strangely alluring, and genuinely tragic Ophelia, who finally succumbs to the stresses that press on her. Tantoo Cardinal gives the wondrous description of Ophelia’s body floating in her watery grave, in a way that almost makes one weep. Again and again, in this production, one could hear the feeling behind the words in this play. Jesse LaVercombe is terrific as Guildenstern and later as Osrich. And Cliff Saunders is a peach of a Polonius, judicious, misguided, funny. And as the gravedigger, full of practical shop-talk, he is a revelation.


Hamlet-ensemble-03 - 1

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Hamlet is a play about a search for vengeance and justice. But as is usually the case, the consequences of attaining these are catastrophic. Justice is often more costly than a lack of it. Even life itself begs the question: is all this suffering worth it? And yet all these questions and mysteries lie at the centre of a whirlwind drama, full of frenzied activity. For all its flaws, and near misses, Tarragon’s Hamlet seems to me well worth it, especially to see Noah Reid in this very difficult, always compelling role.

Richard Rose, Director
Thomas Ryder Payne Sound Designer, Music Director
Jason Hand, Lighting Designer
Kathleen Johnston, Costume Designer
John Stead, Fight Director
Helen Monroe, Assistant Director
Natasha Bean-Smith, Stage Manager
Alice Ferreyra, Apprentice Stage Manager

Tiffany Ayalik, Ophelia
Rachel Cairns, Rosencrantz
Tantoo Cardinal, Gertrude
Beau Dixon /Barnardo, Player Queen
Greg Gale, Horatio
Jesse LaVercombe / Guildenstern, Osric
Brandon McGibbon, Laertes
Jack Nicholsen/ Marcellus, Player King
Noah Reid, Hamlet
Cliff Saunders Polonius, Gravedigger
Nigel Shawn Williams /Claudius
Written by William Shakespeare
Cover photo: Noah Reid by Jim Ryce
All music composed and arranged by the ensemble.
Cylla von Tiedemann – production shots


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