TNB’s uneven C.S. Lewis staging enchants without ‘wow’ factor

17 12 2018

by J. Dylan Kennedy


The Witch (Raven Dauda) convinces Edmund (Ben Rutter) that he will be a prince, and eventually king of Narnia, in Joseph Robinette’s dramatization of C.S. Lewis’s classic Christian allegory The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Photo provided by TNB.

Winter has arrived in Fredericton and with it comes TNB’s production of the famous C.S. Lewis story The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Directed by Lynda Hill, the story follows four siblings who find themselves stumbling through an enchanted wardrobe  into a magical world called Narnia. Upon arrival the children learn that they are part of a prophecy to save Narnia from an evil ice witch. Throughout the journey the children come across all different types of magical creatures including beavers, a faun, elves, Father Christmas, and the greatest of all—King Aslan the Great Lion.

The opening scene starts off a bit awkwardly, with the actors silently playing, jumping, and running around the set. Fortunately, the awkward silence is covered with Deanna H. Choi’s beautiful musical score, Patrick Clark’s simple yet beautiful set, and Leigh Ann Vardy’s lighting that brings the land of Narnia to life by creating a magical atmosphere and sense of location. Clark’s set design features a beautiful castle centerpiece that contrasts with the simplicity of the rest of the set.

Raven Dauda as the Witch takes a villain and makes her a relatable and hilarious character—she is by far the best of the crew. Sadly, Carter Scott as Peter does not portray the braveness of his character and instead yells most of his lines—the cringe-worthy aspect of the production. Sasha Mais as Lucy and Elena Hrkalovic as Susan are neutral with their character portrayals—they aren’t memorable—and Ben Rutter as Edmund successfully portrays the know-it-all personality of his character. Luckily, Andy Massingham saves the show with his comedic portrayal of Tumnus the faun.

Unfortunately, if you have seen the movie version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe then your money may be better spent elsewhere as the play follows the movie’s storyline almost scene for scene, yet lacks the action that the movie provides.

Choreography is clearly not important for this production as only one fight is choreographed (by Jean-Michel Cliche) and the war is cheaply portrayed by relying on lighting and the imagination of the audience.

Eventually, Clark’s set pieces become predictable, and the Great Lion King Aslan looks more like the Cowardly Lion from Oz.

Overall, I would not recommend this play to others. For students the price of $15 is appropriate, however, for adults the price is a ridiculous $45. The play doesn’t introduce any new information compared to the movie, and the lack of action is very disappointing. The ability to use music and lighting to conjure the atmosphere of Narnia is the only pro to the production. For a theatre company that represents our entire province, TNB is lacking the ‘wow’ factor that I am looking for in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This would have been a better musical, but because it isn’t I would say save your money and watch the film.

Joseph Robinette’s stage version of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was produced by Theatre New Brunswick and ran at the Fredericton Playhouse December 13-15, 2018.


Far from Spare Oom in the woods of Narnia, the children (l.-r.) Peter (Carter Scott), Lucy (Sasha Mais), and Susan (Elena Hrkalovic) thrill to the sudden arrival of Father Christmas (Andy Massingham) and his elf (Qasim Khan) while Mrs. Beaver (Allison Basha) and Mr. Beaver (Derek Kwan) look on in TNB’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Photo provided by TNB.


Existential angst accomplished in Theatre UNB’s offerings of Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound and Sartre’s No Exit

8 12 2018

by Hannah Elizabeth John

The evening in UNB’s Memorial Hall starts with two formally dressed actors sitting on an elevated platform upstage-centre immersed in their own banter. The audience, from this moment, pieces together what is going to happen based on their conversation. It is revealed that they are theatre critics and they are here to watch the play just like us.

The play is Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, presented by Theatre UNB and directed by Len Falkenstein.

Soon, we find out the intricacies of these critics’ characters. There are claims of Birdboot’s (Rory Jurmain’s) ‘scrupulous’ morality concerned with his outings with various theatre actresses; and of Moon’s (Julianne Richard’s) disregard on the same. This moral doubt continues to be mentioned frequently throughout the play.

After this, though, the play becomes an amalgamation of the critics, the play they are witnessing with the audience, and the overlapping of these two lives and dimension. It could lead to chaos and mess, but what is most striking about the play is that it draws order from chaos and makes sense even from the obvious mess because the characters of Moon and Birdboot standout from the rest of the actors onstage.

There is a flurry of new introductions and new characters flocking onstage as soon as the curtain opens for both Birdboot and Moon and the audience. The differences between the personalities of these characters is what gives them a unique place in the memory of the audience. For example, we have an eccentric half-brother from Canada with his intense voice by the name of Magnus (Alex Pannier). While he is confined to a wheelchair, this doesn’t hinder his stage presence and comedic timing at all.

The Real Inspector Hound did an excellent job in capturing audience attention and entertaining them fully, even though some characters and scenes were overly exaggerated, like the dusting of the furniture by the talkative housemaid Mrs. Drudge (Swarna Naojee).

Ultimately, the play gives Fredericton theatre goers a new taste of the different kinds of theatre available and practised throughout the world.

The evening’s second offering, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, opens with what seems like a valet escorting a hotel guest to his room. But we soon realize that there is more to this ‘hotel’ setup than meets the eye because the guest expects a torturer in his room, one of the many things normal hotel guests would hate to have on their itinerary. Suddenly two more characters are ambushed into this room with the same look of terror and agony of impending doom and that’s when it dawns on the audience that they’re in fact in hell.

To say that the play is nothing short of frightening is an understatement. While it is frightening, it also makes the audience understand, through the sins of its characters, that actual hell is not flames and pitch forks, but is your own character and moral eating away at your soul when you’re forced to question your life decisions that led you here. As each of the characters from Garcin (Hirad Hajilou), Estelle (Mary Walker) and Inez (Hannah Blizzard) take on this quest of questioning their motives and all the evil that led them here, it bounces back to the audience to reflect on their life and its effects too.

The play wouldn’t be so interesting if it were not for the captivating performance of the actors who are each better than the other and collectively a team of talent not to be trifled with. Their spine-chilling laughter after a dark realization is one which the audience will never forget. It is like watching a psychotic thriller on the eve of the Christmas season when everything is supposedly merry. The play reminded us of hell and the evil a few innocent looking humans can do, particularly the character of Estelle who finds herself in this state of being after having killed her firstborn child.

On the whole it is an unsettling experience to watch this play unfold as it triggers the self-reflective powers of the audience’s mind. No Exit makes the audience think and entertains, which is what the aim of theatre is and therefore is a success even though it is a tad too long.

Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit ran as a double-bill, produced by Theatre UNB, at Memorial Hall November 30 to December 1, 2018.


Complex epic theatre production of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo earns stars for Theatre St. Thomas

8 12 2018

by Abby Burgoyne

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Galileo (Nate Telman) speaks of the hope scientific study brings to the known world while his pupil Andrea Sarti (Sage Chisholm) records and the ensemble looks on in Brecht’s A Life of Galileo. Photo Credit: André Reinders

As the audience seats themselves for the sold out performance, actors chat away in the not-so-backstage area. They are getting revved up for the performance, making the audience enthusiastic for the show that is about to begin.

A Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, produced by Theatre St. Thomas under the direction of Dr. Robin C. Whittaker, is a show that deserves a rating of all of the stars Galileo discovers.

The year is 1609 as Galileo Galilei (Nate Telman) believes he will shine a new light on astronomy, stating that there will be, “Talk about astronomy in the market square.” Although Galileo has pupils who believe in his work, such as the enthusiastic Andrea Sarti (Sage Chisholm), his friends fear that he will face trouble for invalidating the existence of heaven if he chooses to pitch his invention of the telescope in Florence.

The “epic theatre” style shows the behind-the-scenes aspects of a show, giving the audience more connection to the actors, rather than just their characters. Galileo controls the planets—which, painted by Laura-Beth Bird and lit by Chris Saad, are absolutely beautiful—that hang high above the set by cables placed above the vomitorium. Throughout, the audience is able to see actors help each other into costumes and place props onto the visible shelves. There is a light focusing on each planet, accentuating its presence in the set, as well as star-shaped lights cast on the back wall. As an epic theatre performance, Theatre St. Thomas employs perspective with a different approach, adding a live-feed video camera that is used by the actors to create important focus points within the main show.

It cannot go unrecognized that the stage managers had an absolute handful of organization and transitions to plan in the show. The lead stage manager, Wei Qing Tan, deserves her own little spotlight for her incredible work and ability to make such a chaotic show run so smoothly. Dylan Sealy is the source of music throughout the transitions, which he composed himself. He sits above one of the vomitoria in the theatre playing an acoustic guitar that is subtly in view, and soothing to the ears. This placement of the musician is very well planned by the director.

There are moments within the show where the story may become a bit confusing as the live video, which shows the plot of the scene in the script, at first goes unnoticed by audience members. Although projecting Brecht’s scene titles, as the epic theatre style dictates, is a thoughtful touch, the audience may not clue-in to read it. This is something that might have warranted mention before the show begins.

Overall, TST took on a difficult show, and managed to execute it almost seamlessly. Although there are many different elements in epic theatre, the actors manage to keep the audience intrigued and focused on what really matters: the actors themselves, of course!

After really giving the audience a proper epic theatre experience, A Life of Galileo is definitely a topic many people will be discussing in the market square.

Theatre St. Thomas’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Life of Galileo ran November 21-24, 2018 in STU’s Black Box Theatre.

TST’s timely A Life of Galileo revolves around revealing design and accessible science

8 12 2018

by Kenzie Acheson

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Sagredo (Jason McIntyre), seated, observes the moons of Jupiter for the first time as Galileo (Nate Telman) relishes in his friend’s amazement in TST’s production of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo. Costume design by Lynn Addleman, Set Design by Robin Whittaker and Chris Saad, Scenic Painting by Laura-Beth Bird. Photo Credit: André Reinders

Eighty years ago in Denmark the famous playwright Bertolt Brecht penned the play A Life of Galileo. This year, Theatre St. Thomas put on a fantastic run of the epic theatre play in the Black Box Theatre, directed by St. Thomas University’s own Dr. Robin C. Whittaker. The production is part of the university’s Galileo Project, a series of lectures, films, and course material meant to educate students and the campus community about Galileo and his discoveries.

A Life of Galileo details the life of Galileo Galilei (Nate Telman), an Italian astronomer and mathematician, and his rise to fame and subsequent fall from grace in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. It begins with his reworking of the already marketed telescope, which he uses for stargazing and with which he promptly discovers the moons of Jupiter. He believes in the Copernican model of the solar system, which states that the sun is at the centre rather than the Earth. The Church strongly disagrees with his work and labels him a heretic and tries vehemently to stop Galileo’s teachings over the course of the show. He publishes his work in the vernacular of the common people, further angering the Church. He is then subjected to the Inquisition, headed by the Cardinal Inquisitor (Wilson Kennedy-Mills) who feels that Galileo’s work will bring chaos to the world around them. The play concludes with the results of Galileo’s trial and his house arrest that immediately follows, and the publishing of a book of his scientific discoveries.

In true Brechtian fashion, A Life of Galileo is staged in a way that reveals to the audience the inner workings of the cast and crew. With no curtains and no backstage area to hide the actors and crew, all of the play’s props and costume changes are visible during the show. From the ceiling, a large diorama of the solar system is suspended and incorporated into many of the show’s scenes, and two stacks of oversized books act as the stage. This incredibly well executed staging is the work of Whittaker, along with technical director Chris Saad and scenic artist Laura-Beth Bird.

The script, translated into English from German by Mark Ravenhill, brings moments of hilarity to what is arguably a rather serious story. While still discussing the science of Galileo’s discoveries, the script makes this science relatively easy for the audience to grasp. It supplies a myriad of characters in Galileo’s life, like his landlady Mrs. Sarti (Bella Baldin) and his pupils Andrea (Sage Chisolm) and Federonzi (Grace Victor). Sagredo (Jason McIntyre) steals the show in his emotionally charged scenes alongside Galileo in the first act.

A Life of Galileo brings to light an important historical event in a delightfully modern way. It deals with themes and ideas that are still very much prevalent in today’s world and will continue to be relevant throughout the decades.

Theatre St. Thomas’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Life of Galileo ran November 21-24, 2018 in STU’s Black Box Theatre.

TST’s A Life of Galileo falls to the gravity of distraction

8 12 2018

by Lola Toner


The Little Monk (Thomas Wolsey) speaks of his family, poor and desperate for a religion that explains their punishing world, as Galileo (Nate Telman) listens in TST’s production of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo. Photo Credit: André Reinders

Theatre St. Thomas’s A Life of Galileo is a cluttered Brechtian production that leaves the audience more entertained and diverted than cerebrally self-reflective.

Bertolt Brecht’s work is never an easy ask for anyone involved, nor should it be, and A Life of Galileo doesn’t quite succeed, but this isn’t for lack of trying. The means of production are all here: “the machinery, the ropes, and flies,” as Brecht once said, in full view—but perhaps some of these means are, truly, fabricated.

Indeed, the Achilles heel of Galileo appears to be the amount of clutter. If the essence of epic theatre is to expose what is usually hidden from view by re-arranging elements extending from the fourth wall to even climactic catharsis itself, then surely any prolonged interruption takes away from critical rationalism. Unfortunately, it would be hard to walk away from Galileo with clarity of focus.

Visually de-familiarizing, the gorgeous set pieces inspire curiosity and the sheer scale of the production is stupefying. Astonishment is due in part to Chris Saad’s brilliant lighting, which tactfully balances projection, stage light, and the looming planets above. However, what Galileo maintains in technical prowess it lacks in focus. A roaming hand-held camera (occasionally interesting but sometimes pointed at the back of a neck), overly-mimed side conversations, and exhausting attempts at physical comedy unsteady the piece of its academic foothold.

It is fleeting instances that spellbind where “actors flourish without professional training.” There is a powerful presence when Sagredo (Jason McIntyre) pleads with Galileo (Nate Telman) not to go to Italy, and stunningly performed is Little Monk’s (Thomas Woolsey’s) soliloquy presenting non-secular arguments for why the earth cannot orbit the sun.

The subject matter is certainly relevant. As in the atomic era and the historical Galileo’s own time, this is an age where science is cast aside in favour of greed, moral panic, and fanaticism. How fascinating that as we are bogged down by sensual entertainments, Galileo, a hedonist, provides us an answer: “Thinking is one of the greatest pleasures of the human race.”

Yet, in emerging from the Black Box after a ninety-seven minute first act marred by disturbances, and then a second act with dramatic reveals and literal puppeteering, one reflects less on the alleged importance of thinking and more on the alleged importance of five separate assistant stage managers milling about.

“We find ourselves presenting a play about the lengths humanity will go to maintain or question authority,” director, co-set designer, artistic director, and faculty advisor Robin Whittaker writes in his director’s note. And yet, this humble reviewer attempts to do just so in saying that A Life of Galileo falls, not unlike two stones flung from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, equally as fast as the arguments it presents due to the gravity of its own distraction.

Theatre St. Thomas’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Life of Galileo ran November 21-24, 2018 in STU’s Black Box Theatre.

Morin-Robert’s Blindside sheds light on retinoblastoma

3 12 2018

by Danyelle Dupuis

Stephanie Morin-Robert’s one woman play about her life with a prosthetic eye, Blindside, is a hilarious story in which Stephanie, the playwright, performs her life with all its ups and downs. Stephanie plays herself recounting anecdotes of her life as a seven-year-old.

Morin-Robert has performed Blindside all around the U.S. and Canada and she has plans to bring the play to the U.K. soon. She wants to help raise awareness for retinoblastoma, a rare type of cancer that affects the eye. Stephanie was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at a very young age. This play shows her story of living as a cancer survivor and middle-schooler who had to learn to accept herself with her glass eye.

The whole performance gives the impression of being written by a seven-year-old and the author has finally built up the courage to perform it with all the knowledge the now-adult has gathered. This makes it feel real, but also silly. It is better to laugh at our misfortune than to be upset and this seems to be an underlying theme in the play. It has the joy and light of a child, but the strength of a cancer survivor. The performance takes place in three areas of the stage. Most of her storytelling is performed at centre-stage.

Her interpretive dance to the MRI machine is confusing and awkward at first until she acknowledges the awkwardness. Stephanie makes it obvious this show was all hers. She would do whatever she wanted and this made the performance a lot lighter.

Stephanie has a great way of showing off her personality to her audience. The seven-year-old in her is very present in the play. The character is multi-dimensional because it is a real person: she plays herself.

She starts by speaking of her operation to remove the cancer and her eye along with it. She relates all of the fears her family went through that she did not experience fully because she was so young. The next big thing in her life is her move. Her family moved to another town not far away by distance but for a child in middle school it felt like half a world away. She explains all of her first day jitters, including the fear of getting mulled by a bear because she had to carry bear-mace on her way to school to protect herself. She wore sunglasses to school many times, which even became slightly cool with her school comrades, before she lost her sunglasses and had to go to school without them for the first time. She also shares stories of living her life with a glass eye in gym class while playing dodgeball. Her mother sent her to overnight camp that summer. This is where she learned to laugh with others about her glass eye. She learned to love her differences because for once people were not making comments or not laughing at her now, they were laughing with her. She could control the classroom because of her eye. There were always obstacles to overcome but now she had more confidence in herself to overcome anything.

The audience left with a new feeling towards prosthetic eyes. (They were no longer grossed out!) The only discomfort in the audience was when she danced, and she acknowledges this, making it seem totally normal after the first one. The moment when she takes out her eye creates a sort of nervous energy in the audience, but after the first joke with the eye in her hand, there is a release in tension.

Overall, the performer/author knows exactly what she is doing and she knows when to do what and when to stop something. She has been doing this for a long time, whether it was actually in life or a summer camp with her first boyfriend, who also happened to have a glass eye.

It is a beautiful story of a real person who went through a lot at such a young age.

Stephanie Morin-Robert’s Blindside ran at the Fredericton Playhouse Wednesday, November 14, 2018.

Norm Foster’s latest comedy comes down on the side of laughter

2 12 2018

by Abby Burgoyne

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City-type Bonnie Doyle (Amanda Parsons) warns her wife Liv Arsenault (Kirsten Alter) that her soon-to-arrive rural uncle Shaver Bennett won’t accept their marriage in Norm Foster’s Come Down from Up River. Photo Credit: David Vivian for the Foster Festival

Nothing seems to pull on the heartstrings more than a tale of long forgotten relatives, and an everlasting feud amongst them. Add a comedic aspect to this and you have another incredible play by Canada’s most produced playwright, Norm Foster.

The Foster Festival’s world premiere of Come Down From Up River, under the direction of Patricia Vanstone and offered here by Theatre New Brunswick, brings in a generally middle-aged crowd who erupt with laughter after nearly every line. Before the show, the talk around the theatre is that Foster is absolutely a comedic genius and has yet to disappoint the returning audience members of the Fredericton Playhouse.

In this piece, Foster tells the story of an old lumberjack named Albert “Shaver” Bennett (Peter Krantz). When required to get medical tests done in the city, Shaver decides to stay for a visit with his niece whom he has not seen in 23 years. However, his niece Bonnie (Amanda Parsons), a lawyer in the big city, could not be more displeased with this visit as she warns her wife, Liv (Kirsten Alter), of the terrible man she remembers Shaver to be. Bonnie even warns that he may be unaccepting of their homosexual relationship and for all she knows he could be a racist. The crowd bursts into laughter as they bicker back and forth, and Liv catches the crowd when stating that she doesn’t know how Shaver will react to her “Black, lesbian wife.”

However, when Bonnie is rushed off to a meeting, Liv is forced to greet Shaver and make him feel welcome in their home. Once Shaver arrives they sit for a chat, although the conversation mainly consists of nervous blabber from Liv, who soon discovers that Shaver is not the man she had expected. He accepts the homosexual relationship, and when Bonnie arrives home to meet him, he acts shocked when she reveals to him that Liv is black, as if he had not already discovered this. It is learned throughout that Shaver may be sugar coating the medical tests he needs, and the results uncover a much more depressing topic.

The costume design is incredibly detailed throughout, making sure that even the socks are changed between scenes to present a new day. Shaver lives up to the lumberjack title with his flannel shirt and big work boots, which happen to be a recurring argument topic between him and Bonnie because she refuses to let him wear them in the house. Liv works from home and can be seen in lounge-wear for the duration of the play, while Bonnie contrasts her with her professional, sleek look.

A factor that makes Foster such an appealing playwright in Fredericton is his jokes, to which New Brunswickers are able to relate. He talks of fiddleheading, covered bridges, and the unbearable winters—something only someone who comes from here would understand.

If a tear-jerking yet incredibly hilarious show is what you’re looking for, Foster’s outstanding play is undoubtedly your cup of tea—or for Shaver, your glass of Irish Red.

Norm Foster’s Come Down from Up River, premiered by the Foster Festival and presented at the Fredericton Playhouse by Theatre New Brunswick, ran November 8-10, 2018.

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