Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: (Toronto) La Fugue

L-R: Félix Beaulieu-Duchesneau, Justin Laramée, Philippe Racine. Photo: Jacques Cabana

What is Freedom?
La Fugue grapples a difficult subject with skill and finesse
by Stuart Munro

Creating theatre for young audiences is, I expect, a somewhat challenging prospect. How do adult theatre makers get into the heads of children they’ve never met in order to create a work that will not simply hold their attention, but give them something to think about and work with long after the lights have come up? It seems that Theatre Qui Va Là, in conjunction with SMCQ Jeunesse, have figured out that answer to these problems with their work La Fugue, now playing at the Young People’s Theatre.

The characters and performances are compelling, and the threats they face come across as frighteningly real.

Told without any dialogue, La Fugue is the story of Johan, a young runaway who finds that living on the streets is not the freedom from a strict home structure that he was hoping for. The term “la fugue” is, in fact, a play on words – in French, fugue means both “runaway” and the complex musical form English speakers would associate with the word (Johan’s name is, no doubt, an homage to J.S. Bach, the man who took the fugue form to its highest level). As Johan runs away, he gets caught in an endless cycle of homelessness, violence, and drugs that seemingly has no end. Through the use of clever puppets – no more than a few hoodies with blacked out faces – and original contemporary music, La Fugue manages to convey the hope, despair, and loss of Johan and his companion, Noémi, as they struggle for the freedom they so desperately crave. The characters and performances are compelling, and the threats they face come across as frighteningly real.

There was some initial restlessness from the young adult audience in the theatre on Tuesday afternoon, but they soon settled in and were clearly engaged with the material. Theatre Qui Va Là clearly doesn’t believe in pandering to young audiences, and the issues of drug abuse, exploitation, sex, and murder are all portrayed frankly and honestly – a credit to the company. At a Q and A after the performance, actors Félix Beaulieu-Duchesneau, Justin Laramée, Philippe Racine, and Benoît Côté participated in an intelligent conversation with the audience who clearly showed that they had grasped the somewhat complex material more than superficially. Ultimately, the ideal of “freedom” is never as simple as we might think it is. Qui Va Là’s La Fugue makes this clear in ways that speak up, not talk down, to the young audience it is aimed at.

To May 16

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