Patrick Kwok-Choon and Layne Coleman. Photo by Scarlet O’Neill.
A year and a half ago, our review of Theatre Smash’s Norway, Today ended with the following: “Look out for Theatre Smash; they’ve got an exciting future ahead of them.” It’s so satisfying to be right. Last year saw their highly competent production of Layne Coleman’s Tijuana Cure, and running right now at the Tarragon Extra Space is Theatre Smash‘s most ambitious—and most successful—show to date: A Boy Called Newfoundland.
Newfoundland Willow (“Flounder” to his family) is a fifteen-year-old boy living in an unspecified Maritime location with his sisters, Brigid and Arley-Rose, and his parents, Marianne and Bill. Or so it was. Marianne comes back from a second honeymoon pilgrimage to Newfoundland The Place (as opposed to The Boy) sans husband. She won’t explain what happened or where Bill is, but it becomes clear that this will profoundly affect The Romantic Times, a love-themed newspaper the couple co-edited for many years. Socially awkward Flounder believes things will work out, and pines for his French camp girlfriend, Evelyn. Tomboy Brigid and hot-tempered Arley-Rose are more proactive, and determined to bring their father home, no matter how many turkeys they have to shoot in the process.
Graeme Gillis’ script is decidedly quirky, almost, at times, to the point of magical realism. Don’t expect things like geographical realism, for a start. But if you can get into the show’s offbeat groove, you’re in for a real treat. Ashlie Corcoran’s direction finds the perfect balance between the emotionally deep and the twee. And the cast is an absolute delight. The inimitable Martha Burns is typically awesome as Marianne, and Layne Coleman gives a really strong turn as the mysteriously absent Bill Willow. Patrick Kwok-Choon is appealingly strange as Flounder, and has some wonderful scenes with Martin Happer, who plays Arley-Rose’s handsome theologian boyfriend, Hadley. But the strongest relationship is the one between Natasha Greenblatt’s Brigid and Lara Jean Chorostecki’s Arley-Rose. When they get along, it’s great; when they fight, it’s better; and when they take an impeccably staged, hilariously mimed drunken road trip, the audience we were in saw fit to give them a round of applause.
But perhaps the real star of the evening is the set. When you first walk into the Extra Space and get a look at Robin Fisher’s primary, video-game coloured set, you could be forgiven for thinking “Oh, dear…” It’s bright, it’s garish, it doesn’t particularly resemble the house it’s usually standing in for, but about ten minutes in, it’s hard to imagine anything else working for the show. After half an hour, it will blow your mind. This is theatre that hasn’t forgotten how to make magic happen. A panel hinges open, headlights flash on, and the set is a car. A small circle is removed from the floor, and it’s an icy lake. Newspapers pour out of here, Christmas lights appear over there, an Expressionist bedroom tableaux emerges out of nowhere. And all of this is accomplished through simple, economic, graceful design.
This show is different, funny, and very well done. Theatre Smash has arrived.
A Boy Called Newfoundland runs until April 11.