Over the past 17 years in these pages, a rave review for a romcom (stage or film) is most certainly the exception rather than the rule.
How wonderful indeed, then, that Anita Rochon’s intuitive vision of Sarah Ruhl’s brilliantly structured take on “you can never go back again” (full disclosure: done that, been there)— brought to unforgettable life by a superb cast—was a hit at the Royal George Theatre, whether or not the subject matter had anything to do with the Shaw Festival’s mandate.
The writing is a masterpiece of insight not only to the perils of falling in love, ending it badly then being forced to kiss in public, but also an insider’s understanding of struggling theatres where shoestring budgets are the norm. Not surprisingly, then, as art imitates budget, several of the characters take on more than one role. And—like a Mozart comic opera—two of those sport similar names (Millie; Millicent), deftly setting up one of the show’s funniest asides: There is no coincidence in script writing. Later, word playing with clutches and crutches is a howler that must have been a hoot even as the latter was artfully employed with visual flapping (unlike earlier in the day wings on a magical horse): “For the birds, indeed.”
To The Cast (also in order of speaking): Fiona Byrne eats up the wonderful role of had-child-now-back-to-the-boards, She with a dynamic range that few other actors possess. Playing the street-wise (theatre street, that is) director, Neil Barclay gives one of his best performances ever—who can forget the absolute joy in his voice announcing “places” for his latest creation. Jeff Meadows has a face kiss (chewing variety) to cry for when playing the understudy and a pimp look for the ages who manages to save a scene from hell by using his own, er, pistol to save Director’s play from total disaster.
Martin Happer to the, literally, “fucking heavens” in his nuanced take on He—from a note-perfect ability to switch from character to real, to a Northern Ireland accent to beat the band (kudos as well to Jeffrey Simlett, voice and dialogue coach)—it’s hard to imagine a better view of the conflicted character. Death by heart attack has seldom been more vividly given than by the face that speaks 1,000 expressions, Sanjay Talwar.
Sarena Parmar is especially effective as “lost” daughter Millie, while Rong Fu’s depiction of Laurie—smoking sad weed in the loo—is yet another showstopper to savour, amidst the tears.
The icing on the visual cake is a “The End” graphic with the same font as the Theatre Communication Group publication! With such attention to details—large and small—no serious theatregoer will want to miss a viewing of this show.