• Penny Warwick

Two Cents & Two Pence Review of 2018

With 48 reviews in 2018, not including Fringe, Two Cents & Two Pence continues to be a consistent reliable voice on the Vancouver Theatre scene. Here’s our round up of the shows that stole our hearts, or minds, or both in 2018.

On top are Hot Brown Honey and Ruined, both making multiple lists. The full list of our fifteen picks, as well as additional honourable mentions are below.

Discussing our picks of the year are regular contributors Emma Rossland, Daphne Cranbrook, Liz Gloucester, Max Timmins, Kelly Moncton and Editor-in-Chief Penny Warwick.

Emma Rossland: In January, the year started off with a bang with Briefs Factory’s Hot Brown Honey. It certainly set the bar high and I was hard pressed to find a show that lived up to it. Filled with empowerment, HBH had me and every other audience member stamping our feet in unity to this incredibly powerful and moving spectacle of a show. And the good news is that it’s coming back in 2019, so if you missed it the first time… GET YOUR TICKETS!

Penny Warwick: Couldn’t agree more. This show made me want to dance riot all over the patriarchy. Somehow manifesting anger and joy in one performance whilst wrapped into a visually stunning spectacular, Hot Brown Honey is a non-stop party with high energy and emotional performances from the ensemble and raises ideas that hit home and stay with you long after the final curtain. This show is back in February, and you do not want to miss it.

Liz Gloucester: As we are all potently aware, 2018 was a 'breakthrough' year for the continuing struggle for women's rights and this has been reflected faithfully in many of the pieces I have been privileged to watch this year in Vancouver. Of these I would like to highlight Shit at the Firehall and Ruined by Dark Glass Theatre at the Pacific; showcasing women dealing with trauma and abuse in all their courage and indeed cruelty. Sharon Crandall, Kayla Deorksen and Yoshié Bancroft were powerhouses in the former; firing poetry at the audience and indicating immense emotional and physical skill. This type of performance 'fire' is what drives me to the theatre and I hope that our wonderful City's creative teams continue to fuel talent as well as concept. Ruined was epiphanic for me. It opened my eyes to sights I have never seen as well as horrors and humour I didn't think mutually inclusive.

PW: Ruined was by far the most emotional and powerful piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. In fact finding the right words to sum up how affecting this performance was seems impossible. The performances were exceptional, the direction was tight and the show deserved much more recognition, admiration and publicity than it received from it’s run on the small Pacific Theatre stage. Without a second of doubt my top pic for the year.

DC: Also timely and poignant for me was Ruby Slippers’ & Diwali in BC’s C’Mon Angie!, which tells the story of a one-night stand gone awry. Compelling in its content and unforgiving in its demands of the actors and audience, this show had me questioning my assumptions, prejudices, and privileged worldview for weeks afterward, which, in my opinion, is one of the most important roles of theatre. A standout that stuck with me.

Kelly Moncton: Hysteria by Direct Theatre Collective, drew me in with its light-hearted moments and strong ensemble, but had a much stronger message about gender and consent at its core. The sheer amount of bravery and vulnerability the performers shared was overwhelming at times. This intensity and emotion was nicely balanced by some biting jabs at the nonsense our sexist society perpetuates.

ER: I also have two Fringe mentions this year, the first is Lip Service by Pulsive Party. This was not a show I had initially planned to see, but after hearing so many good things about it I squeezed it into my Fringe schedule. I mean who wouldn’t want to see a couple of singing dancing vulvae? Hilariously relatable and informative, these two vulvae taught the audience everything from anatomy to stories of what it’s like to have one. Devon More Music’s Flute Loops was another Fringe show that I thoroughly enjoyed. To get a rough picture of the show, imagine someone like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory creating sound samples and trying to explain quantum physics to the audience. Hate science? No problem. More’s loveable character explains it in a way that will have you laughing your butt off, enthralled by her inventive music, and learning about science all at the same time.

Max Timmons: It’s no secret I loved the Arts Club’s production Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley. It was pure delight from start to finish. With passionately reserved performances from the meant-to-be lovers (Kate Dion-Richard and Matthew MacDonald-Bain), Miss Bennet hit all the right notes for me. It paid homage to Austen, while maintaining just enough tongue-in-cheek modern sensibility. A sweet, fluffy, holiday treat.

DC: I would say that another production by Arts Club - Fun Home - was without a doubt one of the most entertaining and moving shows I saw last year. The solid cast, music, direction, and design elements resulted in a show that was near flawless. I’m so glad Arts Club staged this important story for Vancouver audiences, allowing us to see and hear a story of resilience from the LGBTQ community. May there be many more like it to come.

MT: On the subject of musicals, Snapshots Collective brought their A-game with an immersive, site-specific production of Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim’s goriest musical. Taking a cue from the most recent West End/Off-Broadway revival, director Chris Adams had his all-star cast (led by the stupendous Warren Kimmel as Sweeney) perform in a pop-up pie shop in Gastown. There was no place to hide from the sound and fury of the committed ensemble, as they stood inches away from the audience. It was energetic, intimate and gutsy as Hell.

KM: Bard on the Beach’s Beatles version of As You Like It breathed new life into the play, and made it feel nostalgic and approachable. The performers all wowed with their ability to combine singing, stage fighting, and instrument playing, all while making 500 year-old text fresh and clear. The whole experience reminded me of a elaborate cocktail that hides its strength behind sugar and fizz.

MT: Little Mountain Lion’s production of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play really resonated with me. An unsettling, partially-musical play, the “post-electric” Mr. Burns brilliantly honed in on the millennial mindset: we’re terrified that this world we’ve inherited is on the brink of collapse, and we cling to the nostalgia of our youth because it hearkens back to simpler, safer times. With grotesque Simpsons-style masks, haunting music and strong actors playing multiple characters over several decades, Mr. Burns celebrated the power of storytelling and how it endures - how it MUST endure - when all else is lost.

KM: Aenigma Theatre’s production of The How and the Why was a showcase of strong writing and performing. Bronwen Smith and Annie Arbuckle both navigated the dense language of evolutionary biology and emotional twists and turns of the script with grace and warmth.

LG: I would also like to mention a little show performed in the newly created Tyrants Studio above the Penthouse Nightclub during the Fall. Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett is a monologue about a self-observer, whose life has been a slow retreat into the hermit-like state in which we find him. He has spent his adult years making tape recordings of his observations and we view him listening to his 'anthology' and essentially reciting his own epilogue; his Last Tape. Watching it was a veritable delight; every beat carefully constructed by the creative team of Seven Tyrants and a palpable truth by actor Linden Banks.

PW: There were a couple of gems tucked away in smaller venues for sure. I saw Phantom Signal in October and it makes my list simply because there is nothing else like it in Vancouver. The premise is a live radio show and Jason Macdonald, Tara Travis and Andrew Bailey excel in this brand of comedy horror. It is very hard to summarise the detail and cleverness that make these shows so brilliant, from the brilliantly written and performed characters to the live foley, vocal acrobatics and visual bonuses. Fortunately for all of us all the unique performances are now on a regular schedule and will have shows in the first week of each month at Little Mountain Gallery.

Full List (in alphabetical order):

As You Like It (Bard on the Beach)

C’mon Angie (Ruby Slippers Theatre & Diwali in BC)

Flute Loops (Devon More Music - as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival)

Fun Home (Arts Club Theatre Company)

Hot Brown Honey (Breifs Factory)

Hysteria (Direct Theatre Collective - as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival)

Krapp's Last Tape (Seven Tyrants Theatre)

Lip Service (Pulsive Party – as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival)

Miss Bennet – Christmas at Pemberley (Arts Club Theatre Company)

Mr. Burns – A Post Electric Play (Little Mountain Lion)

Phantom Signal (Phantom Signal)

Ruined (Dark Glass Theatre) Shit (Firehall Arts Centre)

Sweeney Todd (Snapshots Collective)

The How and the Why (Aenigma Theatre)

Some additional honourable mentions:

A Steady Rain (Seven Tyrants)

Is That How Clowns Have Sex? (Maximaliste Productions – Vancouver Fringe Festival)

Les Filles Du Roi (Fugue Theatre/Raven Theatre in association with Urban Ink and The Cultch),

Poly Queer Love Ballad (Sara Vickruck & Anais West)

The Wolves (Pacific Theatre)

Travel Theatrics (Standing Room Only Theatre)

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