salt.: how history fits on contemporary bodies

DICK-DAVENPORTWriter/performer Selina Thompson slams it in salt. (Photo by Dick Davenport)

At the beginning of her autobiographical solo show salt., Selina Thompson says, “I’m 28. I’m black. I’m a woman.” I’m 66, white, and a man and those realities will have a huge impact on how I interpret Thompson’s work.*

The realities of everyday racism still shock me, for instance. Near the top of salt., Thompson relates a story about her grandmother, who was told as a little girl—by her schoolteacher—that black people have darker skin because they are lazy and dirty in God’s eyes. Decades later, a little boy in a Bristol café points Thompson out as a nigger and, although she was born in Birmingham and lives in England, she still fields endless questions about where she is “really” from.

The concreteness of this material made it some of the most affecting in the script for me.

Then, in a way, Thompson sets out to experience where she is “really” from. The body of salt. is about a journey that she took in 2013: to explore the history of slavery and its impact on her life, she traveled by cargo ship from Belgium to Ghana, then on to Jamaica and back to the UK. [Read more…]

Prince Hamlet: the play’s the thing—sometimes

Bronwen-SharpDawn Jani Birley makes a compelling Horatio in Prince Hamlet. (Photo by Bronwen Sharp)

This Hamlet is like a priceless fabric with a lot of holes in it.

Director Ravi Jain has conceived and cast this production with refreshing inclusivity: the players are racially diverse, seven out of nine performers are women, there are multiple gender reversals in the casting, and the production is bilingual: Dawn Jani Birley, who is deaf, plays Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, and the story unfolds in both English and American Sign Language.

In many instances, the results are revelatory. Christine Horne’s Prince is the most original, the most mentally unstable, and by far the wittiest Hamlet I’ve seen. Jain and Horne establish the edge of craziness early: near the top of the show, when Hamlet sees his father’s ghost on the ramparts, Hamlet speaks the ghost’s lines, possessed by a kind of ecstasy. (I’m using male pronouns because the characters maintain their original gender identities.) [Read more…]

The Open House: six degrees of obscuration

Open House-5204

Less than halfway through this evening, I wrote in my notebook, “I don’t want to spend any more time with them.” Mostly, I was talking about the characters; there are strengths—as well as significant weaknesses—in the production.

In The Open House, which runs an unbroken 90 minutes, adult Son and Daughter have come home to celebrate Mother and Father’s wedding anniversary. The evening starts with an extended passage in which these four—and Uncle—abuse each other and ignore one another’s cries for help.

Having suffered strokes and heart attacks, Father uses a wheelchair—and he’s a flaming asshole. When Uncle makes a comment about the kids’ affection for pets, Father spits, “How many times do I have to ask you never to think about this family?” Father relentlessly insults and belittles Mother, making it clear that she is a third-choice wife who has become an idiotic inconvenience. And, when Son tries to open up to Father, Father says, “Work this into your sleep” and mimes shooting him. [Read more…]

Colin Thomas was the theatre critic for The Georgia Straight for 30 years.

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Vancouver theatre: top ten 2016

Fight With a Stick produced Revolutions in an empty warehouse.

Revolutions, which was produced by Fight With a Stick is one of my favourite all-time theatrical experiences.

It’s true: in many ways, 2016 has been terrifying. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States promises concrete horrors for years to come.

But, the way I see things, theatre provides an alternative to the values and impulses that will soon put Trump in the Oval Office. It’s no accident that the orange man went all Twitter-apeshit when the racially diverse, queer-trending cast of the musical, Hamilton, asked Mike Pence to assure Americans that the incoming administration would treat minorities fairly: theatre, especially determinedly progressive theatre like Hamilton, is in direct opposition to everything that Trump and Pence stand for. [Read more…]

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