My top ten theatrical pleasures of 2015

Hooray for Vancouver theatre makers!

I’m especially pleased to note that my Top Ten list of theatrical experiences from this past year includes a whole bunch of work from emerging artists as well as seasoned pros.

Okay. I’m going to run through my faves in chronological order, starting with the most recent.


Billy Marchenski, Radix Theatre, TBD, Tibetan Book of the Dead

Billy Marchenski was one of the spirit guides in Radix Theatre’s TBD.

Radix Theatre’s TBD

Inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, this immersive experience altered my emotional landscape.

Every day for 21 days, the folks from Radix Theatre initiated some kind of interaction with every one of the souls in the 75-member audience, leading us through our own deaths to our rebirths. Sometimes participants would simply get text or audio messages. And sometimes deities would show up in our lives. (Radix tracked us, using an app that we all agreed to install on our cell phones.)

Check out the first two Related posts at the bottom of this entry.

A Simple Space, Gravity & Other Myths, The Cultch

The sweet, sweet physicality of the performers in A Simple Space.

A Simple Space

The Cultch presented this acrobatic performance by Australian company Gravity & Other Myths at the York. The sheer physical fun of this show felt like sex. With lots of people. All at once. With no worries about STIs.




Tetsuro Shigematsu, Empire of the Son, The Cultch, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre

Tetusuro Shigematsu stylin’ it in his breakthrough solo, The Empire of the Son

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Empire of the Son

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s autobiographical solo show is about beginning to understand his emotionally inaccessible father. For days after seeing it, I couldn’t talk about it without choking up.

The production, which features videotaped performances on tiny sets, is as formally innovative as it is beautiful.

After a sold-out run, the Cultch is bringing Empire of the Son back next season. Don’t miss it.


Camille Legg, Romeo and Juliet, Studio 58

Camille Legg (L) opening her heart to Adele Furseth’s Juliet. Who wouldn’t fall for her?

Camille Legg in Romeo + Juliet

For crusty old theatre critics, nothing matches the thrill of stumbling across a major talent.

Playing a lesbian Romeo in director Anita Rochon’s adventurous adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Camille Legg, a student at Langara’s Studio 58, made such emotional sense of the character and was so charming that I would happily have handed in my gay-male card for a sapphic one.


A Fighting Season, Bleeding Heart Theatre, Sean Harris Oliver, Vancouver Fringe Festival

The Fighting Season takes a realistic look at the impact of war on Canadian medics.

Sean Harris Oliver’s The Fighting Season 

There was a lot to love about this Fringe Festival production, including the performances by Kyle Jespersen, Tom Pickett, and newcomer Siona Gareau-Brennan. And they were all building on the framework provided by emerging playwright Sean Harris Oliver’s impressive script, which is about the trauma suffered by three Canadian medics in Afghanistan. Let’s hear if for developing playwrights!



Peter n' Chris Present: Here Lies Chris

Death? Unstable reality? Hilarious to Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson

Peter n’ Chris Present: Here Lies Chris

Sometimes comedy doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but—Jesus!—sketch-comedy duo Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson are so skilled! This show, which uses Chris’s pretend death to riff on the nature of friendship—and reality—is a masterclass in timing and the writing is as whip-smart as it is associative.



Erin Walker, Hairspray, TUTS

I hope that Erin Walker had a fabulous summer. She deserved it.

Erin Walker in Hairspray

Pretty much everything in director Sarah Rodgers’s TUTS production of Hairspray was explosively successful. But it was a particular pleasure to watch newbie Erin Walker bring down the house in her first major role, using the gifts of her powerful voice and generous heart. There’s no doubt about it: Hairspray was the best show in Vancouver this summer.


Jennifer Copping, Indian Arm

Jennifer Copping’s character in Indian Arm was often unlikable—and always riveting.


Jennifer Copping in Indian Arm

In Indian Arm, Vancouver playwright Hiro Kanazawa’s literate take on Henrik Ibsen’s Little Eyolf, Jennifer Copping played a woman trying to negotiate her legal relationship with her Tsleil-Waututh neighbours in Indian Arm, while reeling from a personal tragedy. Copping hadn’t been on my radar, but her work here was monumental—and savage.


Milton Lim, Foreign Radical, Theatre Conspiracy

Milton Lim, who had an impressive season all round, was the charismatic—and sinister—Host in Foreign Radical

Foreign Radical

Theatre Conspiracy’s production took the issue of surveillance and made it personal. “Have you surfed porn in the last 24 hours? Have you made an online purchase in the last week? Have you signed a petition critical of the federal or provincial governments?” Audience members answered these questions by moving to different areas of the playing space. Especially, with Bill C-51, which the Liberals have promised to amend, vulnerability matters. And so does resistance.



With Martin Stubbers (R), Andrew McNee made comic magic in One Man, Two Guvnors.

With Martin Happer (R), Andrew McNee made comic magic in One Man, Two Guvnors.

Andrew McNee in One Man, Two Guvnors 

For the most part, director David Mackay cast the Arts Club proaction of this wild British comedy expertly. Martin Happer, Lauren Bowler, and Ryan Biel were all hilarious in this adaptation of the commedia dell’arte classic, A Servant of Two Masters. But it was Andrew McNee, playing the befuddled servant, who made me pee my pants. McNee was so insanely unpredictable that, when he ventured into the audience, people were screaming in that unmatchable combination of terror and delight.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.


  1. That’s Martin Happer in the photo for One Man, Two Guvnors, not Martin Stubbers.

  2. Thanks for your support for The Fighting Season, Colin! And for teaching me the meaning of ‘sapphic.’

  3. Maureen MacDonald says:

    THE WAITING ROOM by Morris Panych had its world premiere at the Arts Club Granville island Stage in October. It was my favourite play of the year. A compelling story based on John Mann’s successful journey through colo-rectal cancer, a stellar cast directed by the playwright, a wonderful concert by John and a great band of original songs by John, an innovative set by Ken MacDonald, and a standing ovation by every audience means that I am not alone in thinking very highly of this production. I hope it wins many Jessie Awards this spring.

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