Even as our free time becomes consumed with holiday parties, shopping, baking, and cuddling with the portable heaters under our desks, it’s still worth making a little time for an odd but impressive piece of indie theatre closing this Saturday. The Tin Drum is a new production with a long history: Chris Hanratty and Shira Leuchter of UnSpun Theatre have been working on an adaptation of Günter Grass’s 1959 novel of the same name for about six years, and with reason. The story is a sprawling tale that unfolds across generations, countries, and wars, and involves a large cast of characters and some magical realism for good measure. Bringing it to the stage, then, is an ambitious feat—but somehow this cast and crew mostly pull it off.
Relatively new to Toronto stages is Jesse Aaron Dwyre, a young actor we’re likely to see much more of soon (he’ll be appearing next in Theatre Smash’s acclaimed The Ugly One, opening at Tarragon Theatre in the new year). Dwyre plays Oskar, who was born with an abnormally high intelligence and forces himself to stop growing at the age of three years old—the age when he is given a toy drum that inspires his lifelong vocation. As he watches the world from a child’s vantage point, he observes his mother’s infidelity and his parents’ unhappy marriage, marks the rise of tensions between the Polish and German citizens of Danzig, and then has firsthand experiences with love, heartbreak, and the inner workings of the Nazi party. While Dwyre capably handles the heavy lifting of the narrator, he is, at times, frustratingly disconnected from the events in his life. The other cast members—including Cyrus Lane and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, who both deliver standout performances—are able to inject more heart into this odd, multi-faceted story.
Most importantly, director Chris Hanratty sets the action on a relatively small scale—on a smart, multi-level set designed by Anna Treusch. With the entire cast present on the stage at all times, chiming in with DIY sound effects when needed, there’s a strong collective energy in the production. Since Hanratty’s concept of The Tin Drum explores how we can remain isolated and unaffected by horrific events, this sense of collaboration provides a nice contrast.