Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Far Away

(photo by David Poon)

Caryl Churchill's Cold Metaphors
by Gregory Bunker

Bad Dress’s take on esteemed British playwright Caryl Churchill’s Far Away is, indeed, so distant as to be indecipherable. Published in 2000, Far Away’s high-minded, postmodernist theme of pervasive fear in a world where everything – humans, deer, grass, trees, rivers, even weather – is at war, seems to require training in philosophy and dramaturgy to truly understand. Having an education in science, I can say that from this perspective it is ecologically daft. In a world where animals are constantly trading sides, how would ecosystems even function? Why would gravity care to get involved? And how would anyone even communicate with it? We are not provided with explanations for how we got into this dystopia or rules for how it works, and this is not ok. Simply put, the writing of this play is an intellectual exercise and not for a general audience.

Unfortunately the acting and directing only add to the chasm between what is happening on stage and what is supposed to be happening in our heads. The dialogue and body language, for example, between a little girl and her aunt in the first scene were so cold and distant that I was certain these two people barely knew each other. The second scene saw equally emotionally empty chit-chat between the now-grown-up girl and a new fellow as they make hats together. And when prisoners don the hats and walk down what seems to be a fashion runway to their deaths, it’s just too absurd for me to care. By the third scene I was beginning to think that the lack of feeling in everyone was deliberate irony (postmodernism!). But it wasn’t. The music, though, is beautiful. Mary Lougheed composed and plays an original score that complements the moodiness of the set nicely.

As a play, Far Away drowns in illogical metaphors, begging you to add meaning. As a production, the acting and directing prevent its five scenes from having any emotional resonance or continuity. At least it’s short.

Run time: 50 minutes. 
Runs to November 10


  1. I would not normally comment on an anti-intellectual rant masquerading as a review, but Mr. Bunker's comments are offensive and even dangerous. No, he is not entitled to his opinion, particularly when it demonstrates such a profound inability to grapple with the material at hand. Let us consider this line, a response to the third scene in the play, in which inanimate, animal, and human agents are all mobilized in a condition of total warfare: "Having an education in science, I can say that from this perspective it is ecologically daft." Good heavens, man, have you ever seen a play? Or read a poem or a novel, or had a daydream that did not succumb to the strictest standards of verisimilitude? I am glad that Mr. Bunker has an education in science, but he sorely needs an education in art before dismissing a work that he simply didn't understand as "postmodernism" (a term he also does not seem to understand: "deliberate irony" was practiced by the eiron Socrates). This is simply not acceptable as a theatre review, Charlebois Post. You are lowering the discourse on theatre in Canada by publishing this reckless vitriol and I urge you to raise your standard so that we can raise the standard of our arts.

    1. Mr. Mallard,

      I’m sorry that you are offended by my directness in this review. But I do have a responsibility to write a measured and fair review for the prospective audience of this show, and I also try to be constructive for the consideration of the company. These are, of course, my opinions, but they are not uninformed or without striving for objectivity. And it is all in support of better theatre. To that end, I’ll clarify the points you raise below.

      My review is only an anti-intellectual rant insofar as it is a review of an intellectual piece that completely fails to be coherent. Whether a world is “real” or not, there still needs to be some rules, a code, a key; something to help us be familiar with the way this world works. It doesn’t need to be a scientific connection. What is not fine is to impose an all-encompassing, totally dystopian world without explaining it enough for us to fill in the gaps. It simply begs too many questions to ignore. To take the example of gravity, what I’m asking is not how gravity gets involved in this war (because that is profound and interesting), but why it would (the premise of a conflict gravity would care about). Or, why anything and everything, for that matter, would care to be at war. War is a human construct, so is this world unapologetically anthropocentric? That is a strange and distracting thought given the strong overtones of environmental destruction. This play doesn’t make sense in our world, but it doesn’t make sense in its own world either. We spend our time asking the wrong questions – basic questions – that only become harder to interpret through the acting and direction.

      I hope that helps you understand my review and my discourse on reviewing generally.

      Gregory Bunker

  2. Though I will not comment on the play and the substance of your and Greg's arguments - as I did not see the piece - I will stand up for Greg. Though Greg says he has a background in science, he also happens to be one of the most accomplished and astute reviewers not just at The Charlebois Post, but also in Toronto. He has paid his dues as a reviewer over years - and many reviews - for us. I have never once felt he has lowered the discourse (indeed, I might add, I would never publish an article or review that did). This is to point out one major flaw in your argument: you are assuming things about the reviewer and his experience, which - by extension - are assumptions about me and this site and they simply do not hold water.

    Gaëtan Charlebois


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