January 2016 kicked off with the effervescent Blackbird Theatre production of The Rivals. Everyone’s favourite character in this 18th century comedy is Mrs. Malaprop and, almost bursting out of her bodice, actor Gabrielle Rose showed once again her spectacular dramatic versatility.
In February, the harrowing Betroffenheit exceeded all expectations. A collaboration between choreographer Crystal Pite and writer/performer Jonathon Young, it was grotesque, beautiful and profoundly moving. While time may not heal all wounds, Betroffenheit suggested turning tragedy into art can offer some solace.
That same month, Robert Lepage blew into SFU Woodward’s with his deeply personal 887, an evocative exploration of memory. He blew audiences away with tiny jewel-box images and cutting edge technology.
In March, arguably the hit of 2016, was Onegin, a collaboration between writer/director Amiel Gladstone and musician/composer Veda Hille. It was epic, musical, enchanting and loaded with stars: Meg Roe, Alessandro Juliani, Lauren Jackson, Andrew McNee, Josh Epstein, Caitriona Murphy and Andrew Wheeler. Presented by the Arts Club, Onegin is deservedly bound for international glory.
April, the cruelest month according to T.S. Eliot, brought The Invisible Hand – a term coined by economist Adam Smith. The tension-filled script was set on a Middle Eastern-inspired set by David Roberts. Craig Erickson brought nervous almost savage energy to the role of an American banker taken hostage by Pakistanis.
Revolutions, co-created by Steven Hill and Alex Lazaridis Ferguson, made us dizzy with excitement in May. The limited-sized audience was seated on a platform that receded, advanced and rotated: it was a completely unnerving, absolutely unique experience with an apocalyptic interwoven story.
Hair was the big surprise in June. This Renegade Arts Co.’s inaugural production was presented on The Shop stage, a funky, soon-to-be-torn down venue. The non-professional show warmed our hearts with peace and love and the big closing number, “Let The Sun Shine”.
Pericles, directed by Lois Anderson for Bard on the Beach, was a sumptuous production of Shakespeare’s seldom-produced play. Costumes by Carmen Alatorre, set design by Amir Ofek and sinewy soundscape by Malcolm Dow made Pericles the exotic pick of Bard.
Summer came and went and then it was the Fringe Festival with some terrific shows. Personal favourites were Jonathon Young’s A Great Day For Up, The Nether, And Bella Sang With Us, A Dog At a Feast and Bella Culpa, the sweetest bit of clowning.
By October every theatre company in town opened its 2016-2017 season. Nicola Cavendish was a brash and mouthy delight in the Arts Club’s Bakersfield Mist but Théâtre la Seizième stole my heart with Straight Jacket Winter, the inventively told story of a couple relocating from Montreal to bleak Vancouver in January. The tableau at the end had the audience standing around in childlike wonder.
Next up was Fight Night, presented by Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed at The Cultch. Hugely provocative – even subversive – and very entertaining, it rubbed our noses in how arbitrarily we cast our ballots. Very troubling was, on the night I attended, the number of audience members who were persuaded not to vote if there was not a candidate in whom they could place their trust. They voted with their feet.
Studio 58 did a terrific job of Angels in America Part I. It was epic theatre writ large with an outstanding performance by gaunt and hollow-eyed Conor Stinson O’Gorman as the gay lawyer dying of AIDS.
Also in October was The Flick, a quirky, real-time play that, for me, took a while to get going but eventually hooked me. Three adrift young characters were caught up in the inevitable transformation of an old-time movie house into a slicked-up digital cinema. Only the popcorn all over the floor was going to remain the same.
The East Van Panto – a mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs – was better than ever. Andrew McNee, as the Big Bad Wolf, stole the show with his comic genius: a shrug, a double take, a look and he had everyone in stitches. Shout-outs from the kids in the audience were a bonus.
Looking forward into 2017, it’s the PuSh Festival with a full package of treats for everyone and the kick start to a Happy, theatre-rich New Year.