Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) A One Night Stand With Shaw

Spend an Evening with Shaw
by Lucy Wells

The Never Wrestle with Pigs theatre collective is presenting its first production at the Annex Theatre through this week.  I am a great fan of Shaw, and am always happy to see new productions of his lesser-known works.  I am especially happy to see that this collective has done such a fine job with this material.  The four plays presented are Inauguration Speech: An Interlude, How He Lied to Her Husband, The Inca of Perusalem, and Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction. Though some elements are a little rough around the edges, this is overall about the best acting I’ve seen in Toronto.

Directed by Anne Allen, the cast features Hilary Carroll, Mitchell Court, David DiFrancesco, Wendy Fox, Victoria Millar, Celine Peel-Michaud, Matt Pilipiak, and Nicholas Porteous.  Most of the actors play multiple roles over the evening, and it was fun to see how the dynamics changed with each new combination of characters.  Especially noteworthy was the way the ensemble rallied around outrageous characters: when one character is over-the-top, it is easy to have the rest of the cast be merely a back-up, but in this production, each character on the stage was well-considered and acted, not merely a talking backdrop for the star.  This was especially notable in The Inca of Perusalem, in which Ermyntrude is thoroughly capable of dealing with the Inca’s antics, and in Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction, in which the humour depends on everyone in the cast going full-out, not simply the warring spouses.

In the intimate confines of the Annex Theatre, the audience becomes part of the show. This is overt in Inauguration Speech, but evident elsewhere; one of the joys of live performance is the energy a great audience can give. It was clear that the performers were getting a charge from the audience rather than acting to a gathering of silent consumers. It was also clear that many people in the audience were friends and family of the cast, which further added to the party-like atmosphere of opening night.

I have some reservations about this show, but they’re not major, and they certainly didn’t ruin my evening. The accents are mostly very good, but are occasionally dropped in places: minor. The costuming is inconsistent, which I feel is a bit more important than the odd rhotic ‘r’: if this is a period production and the women are wearing evening dress, the men need to do better than lounge suits (especially if shirts are showing below waistcoats).  Shaw’s writing is very aware of class distinctions, and if the cast if going to the effort to tune the accents to the subtly different class levels of each character, the costuming needs to reflect this better. Finally, and most importantly, there are real issues with the legibility of the printed programme handed out.  The front page, though of lovely design, has several lines of tiny text in a decorative font on a printed dark background, and it’s very difficult to read.  Inside are cast bios and comments printed in black onto medium-blue backgrounds, and were nearly impossible to read even with the house lights on; the layout also made it difficult to tell who was playing which parts. With any luck, the programme design will be clearer in subsequent shows; this layout may look beautiful, but isn’t very helpful.

That said, this is a really well-acted evening, and though I might normally get a bit fidgety after sitting through four acts without an intermission, I didn’t notice the time passing. This cast is clearly made up of actors to watch (you may have seem some of them in other productions already!), and everyone involved is clearly having a great time.  Go see it. 

April 18 - 26

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