Thursday, November 23, 2006


As I am commuting to UBC regularly this year and next as part of my postdoctoral research project there, I am also able to see some Vancouver theatre. I will post brief commentaries on the shows I see.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan's School for Scandal, written in the late 1700's, is a wonderful example of a Restoration comedy of manners. Dean Paul Gibson directs a splendid version for the Arts Club (is it just me, or do actors make the best directors?) with a terrific production team. We revel in the gossipy maliciousness of the London gentry as they cause mischief and mayhem in other people's lives. The plot is centred around the reputations of the two Surface brothers, one supposedly “fallen” who is in fact quite honorable and the other vicious and underhanded while appearing to be perfect in every way. The discovery of the truth of these two brothers' behaviour is the final discovery of the play and is offset beautifully in the secondary plot line around the December-May marriage of the aging Sir Teazle to a young wife, Lady Teazle. It is their growing toward each other and into an honest and genuine loving relationship that emotionally anchors the play.

The show looks gorgeous with a terrific set design from Ted Roberts that riffs on a famous scene involving the profligate Surface brother selling off the family portraits. The set consists entirely of huge ornate empty picture frames that are embedded in the stage floor and tipped over at all angles to form entryways and doors for all the various locations in the play. A marvelous design conceit that works. The costume designs by Rebekka Sorensen reflect this slightly off-kilter sense with faithfully historic costumes injected with circus-like patterns, colors and playfulness.

But of course it is the cast that brings the play to life, with gusto. It is an evenly strong ensemble of 14 actors and it seems unfair to mention just a few, but here I go! I was delighted by Jennifer Clement's Lady Sneerwell (especially in the opening scene of the show, which will live in Vancouver theatre history, I am sure, for its sheer outrageousness!) and Wendy Gorling's double role. The brothers Surface, Scott Bellis and Todd Thomson play their roles with relish. But it is the Teazle couple of David Marr and Mia Ingimundson who charmed me with the truthfulness of their love for each other in spite of the falseness that surrounds them. I last saw David Marr as a young actor fresh out of theatre school at the Globe in Regina over 20 years ago. It was with a strange haunting sense that I saw him this week...can that possibly be the same actor? How could he be, well, middle-aged? What does that make me, who was his age then? A reminder of how well theatre reflects back to us our own sense of mortality. But Marr has grown into a first-rate actor, and that is something to celebrate alongside the inevitable passing of time that seeing an actor after so much time brings to our attention. Colin Heath has great fun as the rich Uncle Oliver who tests the character of his nephews (the Surface boys). All in all, it is a fine showcase for the best talent Vancouver has to offer and a strong argument for the inclusion of fresh interpretations of classic plays as part of a regional theatre's season. Better this Scandal than the upcoming Disneyfied production of Beauty and the Beast that is the Arts Club remount of last year's hit holiday show. Is this the dream of Canadian national culture? With Scandal I would say yes, as it lets us see an old play with new eyes. How are we then to take on the cookie-cutter Beast a la Walt?

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