Sunday, March 30, 2008

Zuppa Circus

Rachel and I braved the hail and sleet last night to see the closing night of Zuppa Circus' show Penny Dreadful. Zuppa Circus is an ensemble theatre company from Halifax. Three of its members--Alex McLean (director of this show), Sue Leblanc and Ben Stone--are people I knew slightly when I was in university. Alex has also done quite a bit of work with my cousins Ker and Jane in their Number Eleven Theatre. The ethos of this type of theatre is collaborative and interdisciplinary, building plays together (and adapting them as players come and go from the company) and incorporating elements of dance and music into the drama; it favours an intimate relationship with the audience over the fourth-wall separation of the proscenium stage. It's a kind of avant-garde theatre thoroughly steeped in tradition.

Penny Dreadful is described thus in the publicity:

1863. Mice are gathering under the floorboards on a wealthy Halifax estate. In the servants’ quarters, Charlie is setting traps while Adelaide, the drunken scullery maid, has delusions of sainthood. The two servants become the fascination of their employer’s wayward son, home with stories of travels in strange lands. A love triangle develops, driven by greed, temper and a perverse sense of destiny, culminating in a violent murder and public hanging.

Minimally staged, with an intimate audience/performer relationship and a live musical score, Penny Dreadful is a tale of revelation and love in the age of syphilis.

The show was fabulously riveting. Tight script and pitch perfect performances of vividly realized characters. It wasn't as audacious as some Number Eleven shows I've seen (particularly Icaria, much of which is performed on stilts), but it wasn't the sort of script that called for that sort of audacity. Spare and fraught with emotional tensions, the four-person cast and the minimalist set were just right. If Zuppa Circus comes to your town, do yourself a big favour and get out to see them. If they're not coming to your town, invite them!

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