Slamming Door Collective has earned a reputation for pulling off ‘small miracles’
When: May 2 to 19
Where: Jericho Arts Centre
Tickets: $18-27 at theatrewire.com
Though he may not be produced as much, or as well known, as contemporaries like Harold Pinter, British playwright Edward Bond remains a powerful presence in theatre. Tamara McCarthy was impressed enough by a production of The Sea to want to mount the 1973 Bond play with her company, Slamming Door Collective.
She encountered some resistance, however.
“When I was first pitching this to people to get involved, they wouldn’t necessarily see it as a comedy,” said McCarthy, who is directing the play for Slamming Door. “They’d start reading it and go, ‘What is Tamara thinking? Oh, it’s a comedy. I sort of get it. Are you sure it’s funny?’ But it’s because of how brilliantly it’s written, it’s so specific the way you need to attack the comedy, that when we all got together and read it, it lifted off the page. And we knew, Oh, it’s actually hilarious. Thank goodness.”
The satirical comedy is set in the high Edwardian society of 1907, in a quiet village. The death of one of the villagers throws protagonists Willy and Rose against what a Guardian review called “the stultifying confines of a high Edwardian seaside village, wracked by storms and the small-minded snobbery of a self-destructing society.” The community is peopled by eccentrics like a paranoid draper, Hatch, and a bullying matriarch, Mrs. Rafi.
“I was struck by the complexity of the characters, and how they swayed from a decision in one scene to a seemingly completely different response in the next,” said McCarthy, who saw a Shaw Festival production of The Sea in 2014. “I remember thinking, that’s actually what humans are like. The complex characters, the poetry of the piece, and the absolute ripping humour resonated with me for quite a while afterward.”
Much of the humour arises out of the character interactions (or lack of same).
“It’s challenging to play, so I knew it would be a real gift for actors in town who don’t generally have opportunities to try their chops on material like this,” McCarthy said.
A cast of 10 plays 14 characters. Among the actors are Genevieve Fleming, co-founder of Slamming Door Collective, as Mrs. Rafi. Other characters include Jack, a lower-class man-about-town, and the village vicar. Both are played by Raes Calvert.
“One of the reasons I came on is that I’d worked with Genevieve quite a lot over the past few years, but I hadn’t been onstage to act with her,” Calvert said. “Also, it gives me the opportunity to play roles that I would not be cast in other situations. I’m a Metis artist, so playing the vicar of a parish in East Anglia is not something you’d normally see me in. And I get to work two different dialects, an upper-class British dialect and lower-class East Anglia dialect.”
The behind-the-scenes creative team includes lighting designer Celeste English, sound designer Matthew MacDonald-Bain, set designer Sandy Margaret, and costume designers Chantal Short and Cheyenne Mabberley. They’re replicating the setting and period costumes as much as possible on a tight budget.
“Set-wise, we’re making sure to use materials from the time,” McCarthy said. “A lot of it is very suggested. We have a somewhat simple but striking set that serves for all of the locations. There are eight different scenes that fluidly transform from one to the next. I didn’t want blackouts and scene changes.” Dressing 14 characters, some of whom have three costume changes, is another challenge.
The Sea will be the third production from Slamming Door, following A Doll’s House (2015) and Flare Path (2016). Fleming and McCarthy took a couple of years off to catch their collective breath (no pun intended). Each time the small company is able to pull off a play, McCarthy says, “it’s a small miracle.” But she is sure that Bond’s 1973 play will resonate with a contemporary audience.
“These seemingly eccentric characters are actually with us — and, in fact, are us.”