• Penny Warwick

Two Cents & Two Pence's Review of 2017

2017 was the first full year of Two Cents & Two Pence and we reviewed more than 45 productions in greater Vancouver over the last twelve months, not counting our epic Fringe adventures. Amongst the average, and the less than average, there were some incredible productions which not only stood out at the time, but that have also remained in the hearts and minds of our writers. We each picked three shows which stood out in 2017 (Full alphabetical list at the bottom).

Without ado, and in no particular order, here are our two cents and two pennies worth on the productions of 2017:

Liz Gloucester: Vancouver theatre this year has provided its share of treasures and ‘treasures’.

Robert Blackburn: Overall, I think it’s been a good year for theatre which hasn’t disappointed as often as I thought it would or make me want me to rip my own eyeballs out. So that was positive.

Daphne Cranbrook: It won’t be a surprise to see Art’s Club’s Onegin top the list this year; it was original, spunky, irreverent, heartfelt and just gosh-darn enjoyable. With a talented cast that seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves on stage, brilliant musicians with innovative and catchy music to perform, lush set design, and a general devil-may-care attitude about the whole thing, you just couldn’t NOT like this show. Thank goodness they’re touring it around Western Canada to share the love.

Lillian Jasper: Agreed. Arts Club’s production of Onegin, though a remount, gets top honours. Musical theatre - theatre at all - simply doesn’t get any better that this. How wonderful that the Arts Club has now taken it on tour to expose the rest of Canada to its joys. This modern-isn re-telling of Pushkin’s tragic romance replaces Tchaikovsky with Veda Hille’s catchy indie-rock score. Passionate performances from the entire cast and a gentle, playful tone make us fall in love with the characters and the entire experience. An unforgettable show that will hopefully be done for many years and across the world.

Penny Warwick: Although I felt sad that Veda Hille and Ariel Gladstone’s masterpiece was taken from it’s original smaller conception (which was just so perfect) to a larger theatre space which changed the intimacy, Onegin remains one of the finest productions I have ever seen with incredible music and a formidable cast.

RB: My first pick is A Prayer for Owen Meany from Ensemble Theatre Company, with an engaging and warm cast, this performance showed me that good, natural acting is possible within the realm of semi-professional theatre.

LG: With such a large community of amateur and semi-professional outfits it is difficult to predict what will fly and what will flop. My hope for 2018 is that the audiences start learning to appreciate those small, very creative companies that are pushing boundaries and creating art rather than sticking to the old dependable classics. For this reason my first honourable mention for 2017 is Still the Kettle Sings, performed at Pacific Theatre by Plan Z Theatre Company. We are so used to hearing the tales of our sisters and mothers around the kitchen table but - although it beggars belief - it is still unusual to hear a beautiful pastiche of women’s stories and experiences in such a grandiose setting as a local theatre.

RB: Also at Pacific Theatre, Lonesome West by Cave Canem Productions. I love me some McDonagh but it has to be done swiftly without sentimentality. This production was a crisp, swinging bat to the stomach and that’s what it needed to be.

PW: I'll weigh in (no pun intended) with another fantastic intimate production here. Ben Bilodeau Production's Worth the Weight. Florence Reiher was described as a powerhouse in the advertising for this one-woman musical, and she was phenomenal in this very personal production dealing with depression, eating-disorders and our dysfunctional relationship with ourselves. I hope this is remounted so more people have the chance to see it.

Kelly Moncton: Although Shakespeare's works may sometimes get more attention and reverence than necessary, Macbeth, by Third World Bunfight (sponsored by Vancouver Opera and the PUSH Festival) clearly showed how to make them come alive. Combining Verdi's 19th century opera with a modern setting in Africa requires talented performers and a clear artistic vision. Third World Bunfight boldly demonstrated the effects of greed and ambition on people and nations.

RB: Somewhere deep down below my hardened, cynical shell (very deep down) is a true love for musicals and Sunday in the Park with George by United Players hit the spot. Well performed with searing honesty and an innovative set design.

LJ: The coolest Canadian content of the year played at the Firehall in May. Circle Game, a staged Joni Mitchell song cycle, conceived by Anna Kuman and Andrew Cohen, is a faultless production full of ingenious fusions of musicianship and theatrical performances (a familiar blue-screen light in Blue, a sensually-charged piano duet). Circle Game had the driving energy that so perfectly captures early adulthood in this day and age, the yearning to find a place and make a mark. The talent, but the message, the drive, and the power of music give me hope for the future in a world that seems ever-increasingly bleak. See the remount, when it inevitably gets one, and be immersed and moved by this tribute to a timeless Canadian icon’s best work.

DC: Moving away from 'classic'... let’s be honest: Alley Theatre’s The Ridiculous Darkness had some serious issues. It was so incredibly ambitious that it might have done well to heed the “less is more” axiom. However, I have not stopped thinking about this show, its expansive inclusivity, its unabashed calling out of prejudices, its unapologetic effort at visibility. I will not soon forget the heartwarming feeling it imparted and the challenge it gave us to just do better by each other.

PW: Alley Theatre felt very fringe-y. Which is not a bad thing. I want to take a moment to dive back into that crazy week and a half by commending Interstellar Elder and Ingrid Hansen. This intergalactic space adventure was perfect in it’s conception and delivery. Thoughtful, hilarious and technically-dazzling.

KM: I also have a Fringe mention. Tightrope Talking, a solo show by Marylee Stephenson. Months later, I'm still wowed by Stephenson's ability to tell a story with charm, heart, intelligence, and humility. The fact that she chose to primarily use topics provided by the audience, instead of a canned speech, made her performance even more impressive. Tightrope Talking ended up being the last Fringe show I saw this year, and I'm so glad I ended on this high note.

LG: On touring productions, my second pick of the year lies with Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s presentation of As I Lay Dying, a highly sensationalised retelling of William Faulkner’s novel of the same name. The sheer dedication to physicality given by the performers and a well constructed nod to Le Coq’s genre leaves me reeling a year on.

LJ: Children of God (Urban Ink/National Arts Centre/Raven Theatre/The Cultch). Corey Payette’s devastating musical about the horrors endured by First Nations children in Canada’s residential schools. The production was strong - solid performances, beautiful songs, effective sets and lighting. But there was a force behind Children Of God, a deep-seated truth that once unearthed transcended mere “theatre”. The audience became witnesses, and silenced voices were finally heard. A reminder of the power that theatre can have - the power to create dialogue, to encourage healing and to honour the abused, lost and dead. One of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre.

KM: Another vital piece of theatre showcasing First Nations performers and content was Redpatch, by Hardline Productions. Walking in, I knew this play would be important, because it tells of an indigenous soldier dealing with the horrors of WW1. I was soon won over by the compelling story-telling and excellent execution of the technical and artistic elements. Every character had a valuable part to play, and the performers all rose to the intense challenges. Plays like Redpatch make me excited to see new theatre.

DC: Agreed. Happy Place, from Touchstone Theatre in association with Ruby Slippers Theatre and Diwali in BC completes my list. Although the story was at times unbearable to watch unfold, the solid cast of seven diverse women and a stunning set kept this show at the forefront of mind. Nicola Cavendish’s mouthy, hilarious character was enough in and of itself to put this production in the top three of 2017.

LG: Just to come full circle, and, yes contradictory to my opening statement, I have to commend Angels in America (Parts 1 and 2) by Arts Club Theatre Company. This was by far the best theatre I have seen in all my years living in Vancouver. Every performance was impeccable. Timing. Honesty. Artistry. My two pence.

From top left: Onegin, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Still the Kettle Sings, The Lonesome West, Worth the Weight, Macbeth, Sunday in the Park with George, Circle Game, Interstellar Elder, Tightrope Talking, As I Lay Dying, Children of God, Redpatch, Happy Place, The Ridiculous Darkness, Angels in America Pt. 2

Our top picks for 2017 (in alphabetical order)

A Prayer for Owen Meany, Ensemble Theatre Company

Angels in America (Pt 1/2), Arts Club Theatre Company

As I Lay Dying, Theatre Smith-Gilmour

Children Of God, Urban Ink/National Arts Centre/Raven Theatre/The Cultch

Circle Game, Firehall Arts Centre

Happy Place, Touchstone Theatre

Interstellar Elder, SNAFU/Ingrid Hansen

Lonesome West, Cave Canem Productions

Macbeth, Third World Bunfight, sponsored by Vancouver Opera and the PUSH Festival

Onegin, Arts Club Theatre Company

Redpatch, Hardline Productions

Still the Kettle Sings, Plan Z Theatre

Sunday in the Park with George, United Players

The Ridiculous Darkness, Alley Theatre

Tightrope Talking, a solo show by Marylee Stephenson

Worth The Weight, Ben Bilodeau Productions

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