Reel Toronto: Slings and Arrows
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Reel Toronto: Slings and Arrows

Whether or not you agree that it's one of the best pieces of entertainment ever made in our fair country, you can't dispute the fact that Slings and Arrows was shot here.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

2013 09 04slings

It would be presumptuous and perhaps hyperbolic for us to declare Slings and Arrows the best Canadian TV series ever, but it’s certainly in the running. The three, six-episode seasons were created by Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney, and Bob Martin. The show might seem like something that would have little life outside of Canada—after all, it deploys a Murderers’ Row of Canadian stage actors in its depiction of a Stratford-esque theatre festival regularly clamouring for grants from the Minister of Culture—but it turns out to have a lot to say about the theatre and Shakespeare and, by extension, you know, the human condition. And stuff.

Anyway, it aired on the Sundance Channel in the United States and has gained a cult following, as demonstrated by the recent re-watch by the A.V. Club that culminated in a wide-ranging interview with its creators. Those darned Yankees called it “one of TV’s greatest shows,” and who are we to disagree?

2013 09 04cacnonlobby3

So, to start with, the fictional New Burbage Shakespeare festival needs theatres. The main theatre (which, like Stratford’s Festival Theatre, apparently started as a tent in a field) is The Rose. In the first season, the theatre’s lobby…

2013 09 04canonlobby2

…is very recognizably that of the Pantages, Canon, Mirvish Theatre.

2013 09 04season1theatre tivoli hamilton

But then the interior is clearly not the Mirvish, which doesn’t have those statues—or even red seats, for that matter. It turns out, it’s actually Hamilton’s historic Tivoli Theatre, which has been closed for a few years but looks like it’s set to get a new life as part of a redevelopment plan. Yay, heritage!

2013 09 04asanderson stage

And it was upon rewatching that we noticed they actually change theatres for the final two seasons. At least they were consistent in that the theatre itself…

2013 09 04sanderson3

…is now all one location, even if its most distinctive architecture is often framed out.

2013 09 04sanderson lobby

But the stage, the auditorium, the lobby…

2013 09 04sanderson ext

…and even the exterior, are all clearly Brantford’s Sanderson Centre.

2013 09 04tostudiotheatre

They also have a smaller, studio theatre. In the first season, it’s played by the small space at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

2013 09 04passemuraillemaybe

In the final season, in which it hosts a Rent-like musical, it looks like it might be Theatre Passe Muraille.

2013 09 04georgetown orbrantford

New Burbage itself is primarily played by lovely Georgetown, which we’ve only come across one other time (and in Follow that Bird, of all things). Here’s Main Street

2013 09 04christmastree church

…and here’s Martha Burns buying a Christmas tree in front of Knox Presbyterian Church.

2013 09 04yongs int

There are two local beaneries frequented in New Burbage. One is Yong’s Chinese Restaurant, which, a bit unusually, is actually…

2013 09 04ayongs ext

…Yong’s Restaurant
, in Georgetown.

2013 09 04bar goose creditd

The other is the spacious bar in which the actors frequently congregate; even the opening credits take place there. (If you have a keen eye you might recognize Michael Polley, Sarah Polley’s dad, here.)

2013 09 04bar

It’s The Blue Goose Tavern, out in Mimico.

2013 09 04georgetownfreckled

Did we mention there’s a hell of a Cancon cast going on? Yeah, in addition to the lead acting team of Mark McKinney, Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Susan Coyne, and Stephen Ouimette, we have a whole bunch of great folks, many playing parody versions of themselves. In the first season, there are an almost-famous Rachel McAdams and Luke Kirby (with more Georgetown in the background)…

2013 09 04mckellar

…and there’s Don McKellar, chewing scenery in a recurring role that involves increasingly absurd outfits…

2013 09 04feore

…and an eccentric advertising executive (with a penchant for quoting Nixon) played by Colm Feore…

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…swaggering board member Peter Keleghan…

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…and Graham Greene…

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…Albert Schultz…

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…Eric Peterson…

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…Geraint Wyn Davies…

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…series co-creator Bob Martin (who became better known as the lead in The Drowsy Chaperone,, which he co-wrote with McKellar)…

2013 09 04welsh

…and Kenneth Welsh (Unofficial Honorary Patron Saint of Reel Toronto for his innumerable appearances in terrible local movies), killing it as a bitter version of himself who is passed over for King Lear.

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And there are also later season cast additions like Aaron Abrams (now on Hannibal) and Sarah Polley…

2013 09 04huttpolley

…and William Hutt, who died not long after his performance as a once-great, dying actor.

2013 09 04ahirosushi

Here are Feore and McKinney having sushi at…well it could be any sushi place. Hmmm. Sometimes this job is just impossible.

2013 09 04ahirosushi sign

Oh…we figure it’s probably Hiro Sushi.

2013 09 04lenstrex cityhall

Where were we? Oh, so that’s a reminder that there are a couple of explicit trips to Toronto. Early on, McKinney goes to visit Lenstrex, the festival’s main sponsor. Their offices are rather clearly in the City Hall rotunda…

2013 09 04lenstrex boardroom

…and he waits in one of the committee rooms.

2013 09 04s3toronto

When Paul Gross goes to meet William Hutt at an old-age home, we get this pan across the skyline…

2013 09 04toronto pandown

…locating it on Queen’s Park Circle, just north of Wellesley.

2013 09 04mansion

And in that picture above, Peter Keleghan is dressed as Cardinal Richelieu at a costume party when he’s interrupted by McKinney. We didn’t think the mansion where this takes place would be locatable, but you can kind of see those lights in the back, and they sure look like the tops of the ersatz New York towers, up at Bayview and Sheppard. That would place this home in the McMansion-infested Old Colony Road neighbourhood, just to the south.

2013 09 04kingeddiepan

McKinney gives a speech in a hotel while the camera pans across this lobby…

2013 09 04s3kingeddie

…before we find him speaking at the King Eddie.

2013 09 04royalalex

There’s also a bit in which McKinney and Jennifer Irwin share their mutual love for commercially viable musicals by taking in Mamma Mia at the Royal Alex.

2013 09 04churchofstaidan

In the final season, Gross’s character starts seeing a therapist at this church, which a little bit of Google reveals to be St. Aidan (because, like, it says that on the sign!), down in the Beach.

So, in a mere 18 episodes, Slings and Arrows covers a lot of thematic and geographical ground. All in all, it’s a rather perfect triptych, and despite rumours of a fourth season it looks like, if anything, we’ll get something different, but in the same vein. We shall wait with bated breath.