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Press Release on Theatre Designs

Jo Ledingham

Theatre Reviews


Wives and Daughters

At the Frederic Wood Theatre until November 25, 2017
Tickets from $11.50 at

Posted November 12, 2017

No contest: the star of this show is the set/light/projection design by Harika Xu and Vanka Salim. A number of scrims drop down on which are projected changing images of full-blown peonies, yellow daisies, bright red winter berries, falling snow, sleeting rain, flaming fall leaves, dark silent woods. The images also appear as the backdrop with the scrims arranged and re-arranged in front. The effect not only shows the passing seasons but it is breathtakingly lovely. Just when you think it can’t get any better, the projection changes and you catch your breath again. Chances are pretty good that Xu and Salim have studied with Robert Gardiner, indicated in the program as Projection and Lighting Design Advisor. Gardiner is and always has been one of the most exciting teachers/designers in the UBC Theatre department. Full credit, however, goes to Xu and Salim for this loveliest of designs.

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The most animated scenes are between earnest Molly and silly Cynthia, who flops herself down everywhere and generally behaves like a petulant four-year-old. Vellani and Banu bring lots of energy to their roles but the story seems like one we’ve seen before. Novelist Gaskell’s father was a Unitarian minister and Wives and Daughters’ major theme is how failing to tell the truth has disastrous consequences. To be fair, I attended on second night – infamous for taking the wind out of everyone’s sails after opening night.

But the design concept is grand. Xu and Salim are two young theatre artists to keep an eye on and, once finished their UBC studies, should find themselves in demand. Molly Gibson would be delighted to know that a hundred and fifty years after Gaskell created her, women have the opportunity to pursue dreams beyond the drawing room and marriage to gullible ninnies.


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Thursday, 7 December 2017

Realistic Joneses tackles dread with wit & pathos & words-words-words chasing more words

All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.
                 Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)


Production values that highlight the show : The Cultch's black box 75-seat room is ideal for an Eno play. The objective, if but one were to be picked, would be the dialogue : one wants and needs to hear & chew over & digest each and every syllable, nuance, dropped phrase, purposeful pause. Vanka Salim's set design was functionally plain, again suiting the Eno script to a T. As were Cheryl Siegel's costumes : sensible frump, as unpretentious as the characters. Renee Iaci acted as directorial consultant for this artists' collective under contract with Canadian Actors' Equity. Well-wrought theatre here no question. 


Who gonna like : It is said the 3rd Monday in January is the "bluest day of the year", as in the most miserable 1/365. TRJ should be staged for that time instead of as a kick-off to the Festival of Lights brought on by Winter Solstice. Addendum #1 provides all the dialogue ammunition needed to prove that point. Golly! this is not rum-&-egg nog frippery : more like bad tequila spiked with kerosene (though some would argue that's a redundancy). And could the script be circumscised by 15 minutes or so? Surely.

Meanwhile Vancouver philosopher-muse Eckhart Tolle reminds us that "Identification with your mind...causes thought to become compulsive. Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don't realize this because everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal." His reflection simply tailgates and expands on Hamlet from Act 2, Sc. 2 where the tragic hero famously observes "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

So. Somewhere in a scrum of Shakespeare, Gloria Estevan and Eckhart Tolle is Will Eno's oh-so-clever play on words, lit.-&-fig, that is The Realistic Joneses. If the 20th century playwright spirits noted at the start of this piece are your favourites -- not to forget a wee hint of David Mamet's best sardonic wit reflected in some of Mr. Eno's lines, too -- this is a Must go! evening out on the Vancouver professional theatre boards.

I was embraced, entranced, affixed and at times stunned at the reach and grasp around marital desperation and desolation that Will Eno depicts and reflects for many in our midst. Brought out both "realistically" and metaphorically through the imminence of death from degenerating illness. Because death -- whether from painful acute sickness or plain-&-simple biologic entropy -- just is. Its ghost staring at us brings out precisely the "whatness" -- their ultimate karma -- that each person adds to this life for better or for worse.

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