Photos, Top to Bottom: Cast of Theatre Inconnu's Pornography (Credit: http://www.theatreinconnu.com/); Jessica McCool in VOS' production Broadway: Decades in Revue (Credit: David Lowes).
1) I understand you saw two very contrasting shows last week...what can you tell us about them?
The Victoria Operatic Society's spring production is a revue of well-known and a few not-so-well-known songs from Broadway musicals, mostly from the 1960s to the present day. The show features a six person onstage orchestra led by musical director Heather Burns and a cast of dozens, both adult and young people, singing and dancing their way through this two hour show. In stark contrast to this light entertainment, Theatre Inconnu new show is a tough-hitting British play called Pornography by Simon Stephens. This play, a collection of mostly monologues and a couple of scenes, performed by a company of eight actors, was written after the London bus and subway bombings in 2005. It is a dramatic investigation of the kinds of disconnection and alienation that can lead to the violence carried out by British citizens against their own countrymen.
2) Let's begin with the Victoria Opera Society's Broadway: Decades in Revue. How does it deliver on its promise to survey Tony award nominated or winning musicals?
This show, created and directed by Sylvia Hosie in collaboration with choreographer Tara Britt and musical director Heather Burns, offers a loosely organized grouping of songs from the 60s and 70s in Act One and from the 80s through to the present in Act Two. I can appreciate how a revue approach offers an ensemble lots of opportunities to showcase its talent, and this is in evidence here as a number of company members have a chance to shine. Hosie stages the show very effectively, making good use of the central staircase that is the one set piece of the show, and she is more than capable of dealing with the large numbers of people, who are well-choreographed by Hosie assisted by Tara Britt. This is a very enjoyable show, with some excellent musical performances. But I imagine any musical lover will note what is missing in this show; for me, that was more from Stephen Sondheim, who I consider to be the giant of American musical theatre in the past forty years. While I appreciate the popularity of such shows as Disney's Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, Andrew Lloyd Weber's shows, and Mamma Mia, I can't help wondering how many of these more recent Broadway hits will stand the test of time. Personally, I'd walk a mile on my knees for a Sondheim revue, or a revue of Gershwin or Porter tunes from an earlier musical era.
3) Any standout performances to mention?
There is good work to be seen from a number of performers in the show, although overall I felt the women slightly outdid the men. VOS regular Chelsea Tucker shines in her solo numbers, as do Francesca Bitonti, Pam Miller and Susan Wilkey. From the men I enjoyed John Pugh, Quinn Stevens and Brian Christensen. And I should make mention of excellent solos by young company members Sunny Sheffman, Elizabeth Duncan, Mariah McDonald and Hunter Watson, all of whom assure the future of the VOS is safe as they grow into leading roles. Many costume changes keep the production looking good, and it is well-lit as well. The orchestration could have been a bit tighter and brighter to my ear, but the Sunday matinee crowd I was with seemed to enjoy every minute of this upbeat show.
4) Now onto the new show at Theatre Inconnu. It sounds like it's not a play for the fainthearted, is that right?
Absolutely. The title alone is enough to put people off and to be sure this is mature and challenging theatre. Theatre Inconnu regular director Graham McDonald has a taste for darker fare, and this play is another selection, like Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, Martin McDonagh's Pillowman and last season's hit Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, that invites theatregoers to address difficult topics onstage. Playwright Stephens has created a fairly postmodern script in that he does not indicate how the play is to be presented, or in what order, leaving it up to each company to decide how they wish to interpret these impressionistic narratives and scenes of a number of characters living through the first week of July in 2005. This week included the announcement that London was selected to host the 2012 Olympics and the Live Aid concert and culminated in the bombings on July 7th that killed 56 people including four suicide bombers. These events recur woven throughout stories that take us into the lives of a working mother who betrays her boss, a schoolboy who stalks one of his teachers, an old woman who watches pornography on her computer, and a pair of brothers who are drawn into a sexual relationship, among others. One monologue we realize with growing horror is from one of the suicide bombers who is making his way into London the morning of the bombings. He relates what he is thinking to us in a remarkably matter-of-fact way that does not include any mention of motive, only simple daily observations of the people around him and how the plan is unfolding. McDonald directs the eight person ensemble to remain onstage throughout this nearly 2 and a half hour long show, so they become an almost silent chorus that supports each person's story through movement. This is mostly successful, although I did feel that a more judicious use of the actors may have created a bit more variety in the tone and style overall. The company does excellent work with this very tough material, and not one of them backs away emotionally from the challenge. My concerns around their somewhat generic British accents nothwithstanding (and in London accents signal worlds apart, even if people are living literally side by side, so I would have preferred no accents to this choice), and that the pace could drive forward with more anger and urgency, I remained engaged with each actor and his or her storytelling that reminds us how easy it is to fall into isolation and hopelessness in our ironically evermore "networked" world.
5) What do you recommend for a listener who wants to head out to the theatre this week?
Well, the choices this week seem pretty clear. Musical lovers should head to the McPherson or to the Belfry for a walk on the lighter side with two solid shows on offer at both theatres. Those who prefer their theatre a bit more weighty should venture into the Little Fernwood Hall to catch the final weekend of Pornography.
PLUG: The Victoria Operatic Society's Broadway: Decades in Revue continues until May 15th at the McPherson Theatre. Tickets are available at 250-381-1021 or the McPherson Box Office at 250-386-6121. Pornography at Theatre Inconnu continues until May 14th with tickets at www.ticketrocket.org or 250-590-6291.