London Theatre: Once

In 2007 I fell in love with a little Irish film called


starring Glen Hansard as a heartbroken musician-cum-vacuum repairman, who meets a young Czech immigrant, played by Marketa Irglova, and strikes up an intense romance, mostly unspoken and unfulfilled, except for the music they create together (which was written by the two lead actors themselves).  The song "Falling Slowly" won the Oscar for best song, but a number of tunes from the film have been in regular rotation on my playlists for years.  When


 was adapted for the stage, I was skeptical, despite the 8 Tony awards it eventually won.   I'm weary of the trend that turns hit movies into musicals.  The latest: The Bodyguard? (???)

The other night I had a hankering to see a show and I found a cheap ticket to


playing at the Phoenix Theatre, so I swallowed my fears and bought the ticket.  It was a great deal - I paid 19.50 but was upgraded to the 37.50 ticket - and when I got to the theatre was upgraded once again to the Dress Circle - so I ended up paying about 1/3 of the face price of my ticket.  Yay!  I figured I could suck up even a horrible show for that price.

I actually loved it.  When I entered the theatre the entire cast was on stage (which is a pub that doubles as a number of locales) jamming, playing Irish and Czech folk songs (all of the cast play instruments throughout the show - guitars, violins and even a cello), while they were surrounded by some of the audience.  The set had become a working bar.  They played a few numbers, and then as the audience was shown off the set, the music trailed off, until eventually only one actor, the unnamed male lead, credited only as "Guy" (played by David Hunter), was onstage.  He launched into the heartbreaking "Leave" as the lights dimmed, and the actual show began.   The conscious acknowledgement of the audience, and of the deliberate artifice of the performance, made the theatre nerd in me smile, but soon I was engrossed in the characters enough that I forgot it was a performance - and was caught up in the love story all over again.

There are significant differences in the book for


by Enda Walsh, that make it a completely different work than the film.  Supporting characters are fleshed out and given story lines - in particular Billy, the music store owner who lends "Girl" his piano - becomes an outrageous rocker and the comic relief of the show, with an unrequited crush on "Girl," and a hilarious one-night stand with "Girl"'s sexpot roommate, Reza.  We met "Girl"'s mother and Czech roommates, whose immigrant stories give a sense of what modern, post-EU life in Dublin must be like.  The romance between "Guy" and "Girl," ever-so-understated in the film, is definitive here, developed to a point that makes it clear to the audience what each is feeling, even if their circumstances mean they cannot act on the emotions.  

The music is woven into the story in a clever and interesting way - unlike a traditional musical where characters simply burst into song, and we the audience are expected to understand that they aren't necessarily aware they are singing - the characters in Once are all musicians.  They sing because they love the songs, and the music.  It's not a storytelling tool here - it's part of the characters' expression of themselves, something they consciously engage in.   

There are a few parts of the musical that I didn't think quite hit the mark.  The story is always very clear that "Guy" is talented - "Guy" is going to be a big hit - "Guy" needs to go to New York (London in the movie), not just to win back his ex-girlfriend but to be a successful musician.  He needs to be "un-stuck," as "Girl" puts it.  And all of this, is achieved.  The show ends when Guy makes it to New York.  But what about "Girl"?  Her relationship with her estranged husband, her own musical ambitions, her love for "Guy" - nothing is resolved for "Girl."  I found that to be a weakness in this story - "Girl" seemed to exist merely to admire, help and pine after "Guy."  I didn't feel that the imbalance between "Guy" and "Girl"'s story lines was so marked in the film.  In fact, there is a moment in the first jam session in the movie, where Irglova harmonizes with Hansard for the first time, where his eyes light up in recognition of a fellow artist.  It might be too subtle a moment to capture in theatre, but I felt the absence of that artistic kinship in the musical.  Yes, "Guy" is attracted to "Girl" - her sheer force of will and her drive to push him forward seem to be the attraction, though, not a musical connection.

The musicianship of the entire cast made me envious (unless my violin vastly improves, I ain't getting cast in this show).  David Hunter as "Guy" was a talented guitarist and had a fantastic pop voice, bringing his own energy and interpretation to Glen Hansard's songs.  It didn't hurt that he was kind of dreamy and had a great Irish accent.  Jill Winternitz as "Girl" played the piano beautifully (although I must admit I found her Czech accent to be a bit heavy - and she never lost it, even when singing), and brought a humour and spark to the character of "Girl" that was entirely new to the character that Marketa Irglova played in the film.  The rest of the cast doubled as band and chorus, singing and playing on chairs (a la productions I've seen in recent years of

Sweeney Todd, Company

, and

Sunset Boulevard

- this especially seems to be a thing in the West End), and were uniformly strong as singers and actors.  The set design of the "pub" - which through lighting cues became various other settings, including a seaside cliff outside Dublin - was fantastic, with strategic mirrors placed so that even when a character was facing upstage, their reactions could be seen.  I wasn't surprised at all to read in the program that the original workshop of


 had been scene-specific - in a pub - and they've managed to retain that sense of a site-specific piece nicely, even in a conventional theatre setting.  

Even though I knew what would happen, I found myself sobbing my heart out at the finale, and was so glad I had seen what really was a unique piece of theatre, that is still, like the film, about the connections we make that change our lives in an instant.

The only thing missing?  My friend Linda saw the same show on Broadway on the same night - and Glen Hansard made a surprise appearance to celebrate the 1000th performance of


on Broadway.    I think she wins.  

Blink and You'll Miss It.

I feel like when I went to sleep last night, it was a chilly December evening, the darkness creeping in by the afternoon, and here we are in April, with the sunlight stretching longer into the evenings as each day passes.  The time flies so fast it's frightening.   I wanted to check in and give a micro-update on my whereabouts.

In January I headed to the UK for the first time since I moved home in late 2009.  I wasn't super-excited leading up to that trip.  I didn't know if I'd get back to London and insist on staying, throwing away the good life and the good people in it that I have cultivated in Vancouver.  Instead, I just felt happy to be there - and happy to come home when the time came.  I walked over every familiar inch of my city, caught up with friends, saw a show (the fabulous

The Light Princess

 at the National Theatre), and had a guided tour of Parliament thanks to my old friend Stephen Doughty, now Stephen Doughty, MP.  I met my UK colleagues, and visited our London and Southampton offices.  It was a wonderful visit and in some ways put to rest my life there.  Home is truly Vancouver now, and there is some peace in knowing that. 

Carnaby Street on a Saturday night.

Big Ben as seen from Cromwell Hill. I had a chance to sit on debate in the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons.

A week after I got home from England, it was off to Maui to meet up with my parents.  After a few detours in Los Angeles and Honolulu, and a very bumpy ride thanks to the Pineapple Express, I spent a week in one of my favourite places. 

In the I'ao Valley on a rainy Monday.

Keawakapu Beach.

I returned home from Maui refreshed and relaxed, but walked into a bit of a shitstorm in my personal life, and within days it felt like my vacation had never happened.  So, in March it was off to Los Angeles with my travel buddy Cathy, to get out of my own space again and get some perspective.  

In Runyon Canyon.

Waiting to watch a taping of my favourite, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  I was delighted to get a chance during a commercial break to chat with Craig.  He was sassy and snarky and Scottish, just as I'd always imagined he would be.

While we spent a lot of time walking and exploring, and spent four days in and out of the Disney park (notice the bandaids on my toes from blisters!), I did find a good chunk of time to spend right here - staring at the water and doing absolutely nothing at all.  It was glorious.

Thanks to Yelp I was able to find some of the "cooler" parts of Anaheim, where we were staying, including this great "Park n' Read" in the middle of the Centre Street Promenade in downtown Anaheim.  

Cathy and I sipped coffee from the excellent Ink and Bean cafe and read Tom Sawyer aloud.

My focus during the past months has been settling into my job as Corporate Counsel at Peer 1 Hosting.  For the first time in a long time I can say I really love my job.  I love the people I work with, and I love what we're doing.  This past week I have spent working closely with my colleagues from the legal team on planning for the year ahead.  On Monday we went to the Top of Vancouver, the revolving restaurant, on top of Harbour Centre.  I got to see my home and neighbourhood from a whole new perspective:

Gastown.  My village.

On Wednesday night we all went up Grouse Mountain to the Observatory for dinner, and to once again take in some breathtaking views of the city:

Sunset on Grouse Mountain.  April 2, 2014.

So, that's how four months passes without you even knowing it.  A combination of hard work, travel, and a little heartbreak.   I'm now easing my way back into some theatre after an extended hiatus, and am currently in rehearsals for


, a Norm Foster play which goes up at the Shaw Theatre on May 8th, and a community production of the

Sound of Music

 that opens at the end of May.  It's been a slightly uncomfortable feeling, being away from performing for so long, but as usual I managed to keep myself busy - which means I'm finding now that I've thrown theatre back into the mix that I'm so busy I can't breathe.  This whole "balance" thing is so difficult when you have so much you want to accomplish.  

Theatre Review: Beggar's Opera

Seven Tyrants Theatre

 has remounted their successful 2013 production of

Beggar's Opera

at Jericho Arts Centre, and Caitlin and I made the trek to see it last night.   Adapted and directed by David Newham from the classic 18th century opera by John Gay (which also inspired the

Threepenny Opera)

, the show features new music by Daniel Doerksen that crosses multiple genres, with self-conscious homages to jazz, rock, musical comedy and pop.  The story is told in 10 "Fantasias," or song sequences designed to communicate a particular plot point or a character's point of view.  

I will start by saying the show is weird in the most delightful way.   David Newham has made a choice to create a world that is surreal and almost absurd.  The characters are all dressed as easily recognizable "types:"  the whore, the thief, the "virgin," the servant, sporting garish, almost-kabuki style makeup and at times, using commedia dell'arte style masks.  The tale is a relatively simple one, but the stylized movement, the deliberately poetic and stilted dialogue, interspersed with decidedly modern music, made it hard for me to follow the story.  At intermission, I turned to Caitlin and our friends Dawn and Vanessa, and said, "I love it!  I have no idea what's going on, but I love it!"  


Beggar's Opera

lacks in linear narrative, it more than makes up for in visual spectacle, bursts of startlingly effective comedy (which completely and self-consciously subverts the "serious" nature of opera), and great use of the ensemble, who are present and doing interesting things in the background of every scene - almost interesting enough to be distracting at times, but for the most part they operate effectively as a kind of Greek chorus.  Catherine Burnett's choreography is more movement than dance, but it effectively contributes to the mood of each "Fantasia" and is visually cartoon-like in places (it reminded me in places of

The Triplets of Belleville

), making use of lighted scrims to play with shapes and shadows.

While there were no standout numbers in terms of songs that I went away humming, Doerksen's use of many genres was impressive, and one number that parodied "Mack the Knife" (in reference to heartthrob highwayman Macheath) had the audience giggling and applauding.  The band (including Doerksen on guitar and Phyllis Ho on violin, as well as several cast members chiming on on recorder, sax and accordion) was fantastic, and the cast were enthusiastic performers, if not necessarily all accomplished singers.  Sharon Crandall's Mrs. Coaxer was a vocal highlight, and some of the three part harmonies between the "Whore's Chorus" were delightful.

I have to give a particular shout-out to my friend Chris Lam, who very nearly steals the show playing dastardly butler Filch.  Chris is a master of physical comedy and a mere change of posture, the raising of an eyebrow, the shrug of his shoulder, had the audience in stitches.  Also he stood on one foot for a very very long time in the finale, with nary a wobble.  Well done sir, well done.  


Beggar's Opera

a perfect piece?  No.  Is it a brave one?  Yes, and absolutely entertaining.   To see a large ensemble cast fully commit to the craziness and the spectacle of this original work was just wonderful, and the production values in terms of lighting, costume and makeup were great.  If you have a chance to see it, do - it's running at Jericho Arts Centre until March 14th.   I am looking forward to seeing with Seven Tyrants gets up to next.  

Score:  4 out of 5 (Dani) Lemons.

War Horse at the Queen Elizabeth

I should really never see shows with animals in them.  I wept for a year after the

Lion King

 when (SPOILER) Mufasa died and left Simba all alone in the savanna.  Any of those dog-and-cat-adventure movies?  I basically hyperventilate and hug my own animals so tight they can't breathe, smothering them with kisses.  Don't get me started on having to read

Old Yeller

 in elementary school.  But, when my friend April asked if I wanted to see

War Horse

 last night at the Queen Elizabeth, I said yes, with the caveat that I would be a crying mess the whole time.

War Horse

 opened at the National Theatre when I was living in London and I read the original reviews, in which audiences described themselves as "weeping" and "emotionally drained."  These reviews were also full of glowing praise for the Handspring Puppet Company's amazing life-size horse puppets, but I was fixated on the whole "Horse-has-to-leave-his-family-and-go-off-to-war" thing, which made me tear up right away, so I wasn't choosing to spend my limited London theatre budget on the show.  Here in Vancouver, we have less options when it comes to shows, so it seemed liked a good idea to go see Broadway Across America's touring production.

Albert, Joey and Puppeteer

The play is based on a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo.  It is the story of Joey, a hunter horse who is bought as a foal by the town drunk in a village in Devon, and raised lovingly by the drunk's son, Albert.  Boy and horse quickly become best friends, and Albert is devastated when Drunk Dad sells Joey to the local cavalry officer on the eve of World War I, and shipped to the front lines in France.  Joey and his best horsey-friend Topthorn see everything, from combat as cavalry horses, to the wounded as ambulance horses, and even get captured by the Germans and forced to pull machine guns across muddy fields at the battle of the Somme.  Meanwhile, desperate to find his friend, Albert enlists and is himself shipped overseas, and between cowering in trenches and going Over the Top, is always searching for Joey.  

First, a few technical things about the show.  The production values are fantastic.   There is an animated scrim across which scenes (first of Devon in happier times, then of heaving seas as Joey is shipped, terrified, across the English Channel, to the battlefields) play, in beautiful pen and ink sketches.  The costumes and sets are beautiful.  And the puppets - well.  From the first time the "foal" Joey trots onto the stage, operated by three puppeteers, you see a real character, and forget the people operating the machine.  Joey's ears flick, his chest heaves as he breathes heavily, his tail swishes.   Grown-up Joey is even more impressive, so large he can be ridden by the actors playing Albert and Major Nichols.  So - the puppets.  If you see it for no other reason, you see it for the puppets.  In emotional moments I distracted myself by concentrating on the puppeteers - who was operating Joey's tail and how?  Who was moving his ears, who was making the sound of his breath.  

There are some small touches in the show which I really enjoyed.  The English, French and German officers all speak in English - but cannot understand each other, a neat trick purely for the audience's entertainment that works well.  There is a hilarious goose puppet who rules the roost (literally and figuratively) at Albert and Joey's home farm.  

Despite turning my attention to the technical details of the production, and attempting to focus on the artifice in order to detach a bit from the story, I still cried the entire way through.  And the script - well, it's simplistic and pushes every possible button it can, about war, life, death, friendship and the bond between human and horse.  I cried when baby Joey and Albert bonded.  I cried when Albert hugged Joey and said "We will be together forever" (come on people, this is called

War Horse

, of course that wasn't going to happen).  I cried as Joey and Topthorn stood terrifed on the deck of the ship taking them to war.  I cried when Joey and Topthorn were ridden into their first battle, lamenting at the cruelty of man to inflict human conflict and folly on innocent animals.  And it only got worse from there, as the war only got worse from there.  I tried to distract myself I really did.  As Albert wandered around the trenches calling for Joey, I decided he must have some mental defect, to be so focused on the damn horse when he could die any minute - but cried anyway.  By the time Joey found himself trapped by barbed wire in No Man's Land in 1918, 4 years later (and at the end of Act 2), I was done.  DONE.  And cried to the end of the show.  I'm even crying now freaking blogging about it.

Joey and Topthorn riding into war.

I called my mom this morning to tell her about the show and even started crying as I lamented all the horrible things that Joey sees in his time as a War Horse (she laughed at me of course, and I did too).  "Why did all those things have to happen to poor Joey," I whined down the phone, laughing and weeping at the same time.  "It's just too much for one little horse!" 

"Well, don't you think the horse's experience is a metaphor for our experience in war, and what every innocent young boy shipped overseas felt?" said my mother.  She's pretty smart sometimes, my mother. Because that's exactly what it was about.  I was just crying too hard to notice.  

War Horse plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until September 28, 2013.  

Best friends forever, Albert and Joey.

Post-Show Blues.

It's been a busy year for me so far

in all respects, but it

's been particularly packed with theatre,

having appeared in three shows since February.  It's always a bit of a let-down when a show is over, but in particular, my last two shows, Assassins, with

Pipedream Theatre Project

, and then Spamalot, the

2013 Lawyer Show

in which I played the Lady of the Lake (and which closed its sold out run last night), were fantastic experiences with great casts, and the end of each production has caused some major post-performance blues.  It's tough s

aying good bye to people you'

ve become used to seeing every day - yes, you'll see each other again, but

it's never the same, and the i


-jokes become a little stale as time goes by

, and you each join other casts and bond with new people.

So how does one get over that?  There are a few tried and true methods:

1) Lots and lots of gin at the cast party on Closing Night.  That way, the next day you are too hung over to feel anything but, well, hung over.   Beware, though - you walk a fine line between a "comfortable" hangover - meaning one where the effects can be somewhat easily remedied by McDonald's and re-runs of Buffy - and wretched misery the next day.  This was my chosen method for Assassins and worked out quite well, except for the miserable 9 a.m. walk back to our party location to pick up my Modo car the next morning. 

2) Abject wallowing.  Sleep in, refuse to get out of your PJs or brush your hair, re-live the "glory days" on Facebook, eat Goldfish crackers incessantly and talk to your cat.  This is what I've done today, as I only had one (!) scotch on the rocks at our Spamalot hijinx last night.  

I think my mom suspected that the post-show blues would be kicking in and acted accordingly.  She and my dad were here this weekend to see the show, and she quietly left a bottle of her perfume, which she has worn my whole life and which I refer to as "Momma smell," on my vanity, next to my own signature scent: 

Sometimes a girl just wants a hug from her mom, and when that isn't possible, well, at least she can SMELL her mom. 

The bright side of this whole shows-ending thing is that my roommate and common-law kitty is extremely pleased to have me at home:

I know I'm just being my melodramatic self, and I'll be fine (meaning highly functional though melodramatic) tomorrow.  But I'm having a good old fashioned sulk tonight while watching UK police procedurals in my jammies.   There may even be gin involved.

My First Fringe

My first experience with a fringe festival was growing up in Victoria.  As a poor student, I didn't have the opportunity to go to tons of theatre unless my parents paid (which they often did).  Also, Victoria was (is) a small-ish town and there wasn't always tons going on.  So I loved the Victoria Fringe Festival, where I could buy a relatively inexpensive pass and skip from show to show to show.  I spent hours flipping through the Fringe guide, plotting and planning the shows to see.    Some of the shows were fantastic.  Some were transformative.  Some were god-awful.  But that "pick-n-mix" aspect of Fringe was liberating, inspiring, exhilarating.

This year is my first Fringe as an artist.  I am performing in a new musical work called CAPS LOCK, which is a modern office romance, appearing on the main stage at Studio 16 (1555 West 7th) during the Vancouver International Fringe Festival.  We've been working hard all summer on this show - hence my relative silence here on this blog - and tonight was our opening.

What I never realized before is that the sheer volume of shows put on by Fringe, in a limited number of venues, means: a) very little time in your actual venue to rehearse; and b) a mere 15 minutes at the top and tail of each show to get in costume, get your set ready, and post-show, strike the set and get the hell outta dodge so the next show goes up in time.  YOWZA.  For a theatrical control-freak like me, today - our tech day in our venue and also our opening, within 2 hours - was the epitome of stressful.

The CAPS LOCK team had its first look at the venue in which we'd be performing at noon today, with our opening scheduled for 5 pm.  This means that at 12, our production team first laid eyes on the stage it now had to dress, the lighting board it now had to program, and the screen where we wanted to project various slides during the show (oooh, fancy!).  It meant we had to figure out where to squeeze the 7 piece orchestra.  Just how far apart we could place the characters' desks in the "office."  Where we had to stand for lighting cues.  Whether our choreography was going to fit on the stage we had.  Whether the technical effects were going to be timed properly with our performance.  Whether the sound cues would happen on time.  You know.  No big deal.

Well, actually, very big deal.  The screen wasn't high enough for the audience to see.  There wasn't enough room for the cello.  Was the double-bass going to be able to see our music director/composer?  If I stood here would I still be in the light?  By 2:30 p.m. we had just finished setting props.  There was no time to do an actual run in the space - we'd have to just rehearse particular cues, do as much of a stop-and-start of problem areas as we could, and then hope for the best for our opening at 5:00 p.m.   So that was it.  We were going to go on, in front of an audience, having not fully rehearsed the show in our venue.  I was literally sweating bullets from anxiety. 

At 3:15 p.m., when we were firmly shown the exit by a Fringe official, some of us went for a very subdued bite to eat before we had to be back at the theatre for 4:30 p.m.  I could barely eat, I felt so sick with nerves.  Not for my performance - that I could control - but for how everything else was going to somehow come together in time.  As I got into costume and make-up, I could hear a buzz of arriving audience members outside the dressing room.  I peeked out to see that there were audience members lined up out the door of the venue.  My hands started to shake.  What have I gotten myself into?

As it turned out - it turned out.  The audience laughed.  They applauded.  No one forgot to sing.  Nothing fell apart.  There were a few technical glitches, but in the end, it was a show, and an entertaining one, too.   And I have never felt so exhilarated after a performance in my life.  The stress and urgency of the earlier part of the day, the anxiety at the lack of rehearsal time in the venue - it all melted away and I felt just a tremendous sense of pride and relief that we had made it happen.  And no one had killed (or even maimed) anyone else in the process!

One of the additional perks of being a Fringe Artist is the Fringe rush pass - I have access to as many shows as I can possibly cram into my already incredibly-busy schedule (surprisingly - ha - Fringe doesn't pay enough for me to leave the practice of law). 

My fellow cast member (and Danielle), Danielle St. Pierre, and I, have always joked about her propensity to look for the silver lining in every show, always finding something good to say, whilst I tend to be overly critical.  "We should write a theatre review blog called 'Good Danielle, Bad Danielle'," I said one day, jokingly.

Well, we've decided to do just that - although, truth be told, sometimes I'm Good Danielle and she's Bad Danielle (you won't even know which - sneaky!).  But we've set ourselves an ambitious schedule between now and the end of Fringe on September 16, and plan to say something on this blog about each of them.

In case you're in Vancouver and interested in checking out CAPS LOCK, or seeing another one of the shows with Good Danielle, Bad Danielle, here's our schedule:

Saturday, September 8

12:50 - Chlamydia dell'Arte - Performance Works, Granville Island

2:30 pm - Underbelly - Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

4:30 pm -  Burnt at the Steak - Peformance Works, Granville Island

9:30 - Romance, CBC Studios (Hamilton & Georgia)

Monday, September 10

6:30 p.m. - Fishbowl,  Performance Works, Granville Island

9:45 p.m. - CAPS LOCK: THE MUSICAL (starring ME!), Studio 16

Tuesday, September 11

1:00 p.m. - Zanna, Don't!,  CBC Studios (Hamilton & Georgia)

5:00 p.m. - CAPS LOCK: THE MUSICAL (starring ME!), Studio 16

 7:45 p.m. - Loon, Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island (after our show)

Wednesday, September 12

5:30 p.m. - Saints of British Rock, Firehall Arts Centre (Main and Cordova)

7:15 p.m. - Riverview High, Firehall Arts Centre (Main and Cordova)

10:00 p.m. - My Aim is True, Revue Stage, Granville Island

Thursday, September 13

6:00 - Intrusion, Carousel Theatre, Granville Island

8:30 p.m. - Welcome to My Wake (Site-Specific, Granville Island Parking Garage)

Friday, September 14

12:30 p.m. -  RIOT - Woodwards Atrium, Gastown

5:00 p.m. - The Histories, Carousel Theatre, Granville Island

8:40 p.m. - CAPS LOCK: THE MUSICAL (starring ME!), Studio 16

Saturday, September 15


5:20 p.m. - The Best. Man - Carousel Theatre, Granville Island

Happy Fringing, everyone.  It's the best time of the year.

NT Live: Frankenstein

Note: This blog post contains spoilers.  If you have not read Frankenstein, or intend to see this production and do not wish to know what happens, do not read further.

One of the things I miss most about living in London is the access to wonderful, world-class theatre.  Now, before all of my theatre compatriots in Vancouver get their knickers in a knot, don't get me wrong - I love what we are producing here - but we have to admit we don't have access to the star power or budgets available in a city like London.  Only in London could the National Theatre put on a Danny Boyle-directed version of


and double-cast the show with leads like Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster each night.  I was pained to have missed this production - not least because I'm not sure how supportive it will look to my future husband, Benedict Cumberbatch if he finds out I


go - and so I was delighted when NT Live made both versions available for broadcast at local cinemas.

Audiences love to compare and contrast actors playing the same role.  Who's your favourite Sherlock Holmes? Who's your favourite Bond?  It's a fun game to play.  It's incredibly rare, however, to get to see two actors play the same parts, with the same cast, in the same production, and then play them

opposite each other.  

Caitlin and I saw


 last week with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor.  We had deliberately chosen to see this over the Miller version, as we thought it would be fascinating to see BC, who plays such controlled characters like Sherlock, and Peter in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, play, well, a monster.  

We loved it, although BC's creature went through a painful "birth," finding his legs, literally, in a scene that went on for far too many uncomfortable minutes.  His Creature was never childlike, more like an purely animal being at first, but quickly becoming sharp as a tack, learning the ways of man at monumental speed.  His exploration of himself and his surroundings was mostly internal, cerebral, and BC managed to convey the Creature's astonishing intelligence, confined within the most basic of physical trappings given to him by Frankenstein, his creator, extremely convincingly.  His gradual disenchantment with humanity and descent into cruelty seemed inevitable rather than tragic, like something he expected, while wishing he might have been wrong.  He seemed more of an alien visitor in a hostile world, who grows weary of his surroundings and yearns for home, than a human following the path from innocence to experience.

Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature.

Jonny Lee Miller's Victor was an intense, mirthless man.  You got a sense that Dr. Frankenstein was a deeply unhappy man, unsatisfied with his existence, way before his "animation" of the Creature made his life a misery.  Miller could barely control his disdain for his own invention.  While you could see moments of grudging admiration for all the Creature learns and accomplishes in his brief existence, the disgust and disdain for his "slave" was palpable.   At no times did Miller's Frankenstein seem unhinged, or the stereotypical "mad scientist" who might shriek "It's alliiiiiiiiiive."

Jonny Lee Miller as Victor, with Naomie Harris as Elizabeth.

Tonight I went back and saw the production in reverse, with Darling Husband as Dr. Frankenstein and Miller as the Creature.  I hadn't intended to see both, but after the first viewing I found I couldn't resist.  I wanted to see the two men play the opposite roles, yes, but I also wanted to see how the other members of the cast's performances changed with the switcher-oo.  Would there be more chemistry between BC and Naomie Harris, for example, than JLM and NH?  Would certain scenes that were funny be un-funny, and vice-versa?  

Miller's Creature was much more of a child being born into the world, rather than some wary interloper.  His Creature stalked about the stage like a toddler learning to walk, and laughed, smiled and drooled with a childlike openness.   In the opening scenes, where the Creature meets Delacey, the kind old blind man that teaches him to speak, and read, Miller seemed full of hope and optimism.  He bowed to Delacey, and to Delacey's children, who reject him, with a courtly elegance and willingness to love and be loved that is touching and endearing.  But in Miller's Creature, as the love is close to the surface, so is the darkness, which makes the Creature's menace all too more chilling.

In the scene where Elizabeth meets and befriends the Creature, who has promised her safety, only to be informed that he "lied," before being raped and murdered by him, you get the sense in Miller's performance that the Creature knows perfectly well that what he is doing is evil.  And that he chooses, and has come to relish, the evil, that the hurt he has suffered in his brief life is so profound that only revenge can soothe the ache.  He cannot rationalize his pain.  In BC's Creature, this same violent scene seems a foregone conclusion - that the Creature is actually amoral and doing only what he knows.  After all, Frankenstein promised him a wife and then took her away; why should not the Creature do the same?  As the Creature himself says, he is expert at "the art of assimilation." These subtle differences in how each actor played this scene, and others, were absolutely fascinating to me.

Miller as the Creature, Cumberbatch as Victor.

I had desperately wanted Darling Husband to excel in the role of the Creature more than in the role of Dr. Frankenstein.  The role of a brilliant scientist just seemed too close to home, already well-worn ground in


  But while he may have excelled as the Creature, he absolutely shone as Victor, the brilliant scientist.  And  Victor was nothing like our dear Mr. Holmes, despite what could be seen as obvious similarities in temperament.  In this Victor we had a man who is consumed by ego and by intellect, so devoted to his work that he cannot destroy it, even after it has destroyed him and those he loves.  He only lights up when discussing his work, or his hopes for science and medicine.  While he is disgusted at the sight of the Creature, he is also all too willing to admire his own handiwork and to gloat at the complexity of what he has wrought, to his own (and his loved ones') peril. 

My future husband (as Victor).

An interesting dimension that Darling Husband brought more to light in his Victor than Miller was Victor's incapacity to love (or perhaps, this was made more apparent thanks to Miller's all-emotion, all-feeling Creature, I don't know).  There is a scene where, in making a companion for the Creature, Victor quizzes the monster on what it feels to love.  The Creature responds eloquently and sincerely that it feels like he can do anything.   Victori neatly replies that he was just "testing" the Creature, but you can see, just in a flicker across BC's face, that he cannot empathize.  He has never felt this love that the Creature has already felt, in an instant, for his new companion.  In the final scenes, Victor confirms this - saying, "I don't know what it is to love."  And it's true.  Of all of the consequences of Victor's experiments, this is the one that is most soul-destroying to him: that the Creature he has brought into existence through electricity and alchemy has more capacity to love than his own, human creator.  

Miller was an exquisite Creature.  He was at turns hilarious (when his Creature learned to speak and read he also learned sarcasm and humour), heartbreaking in his willingness to love his master unconditionally, and always menacing, ready to turn in an instant on those who betrayed him with unbridled rage and violence.  While I loved the first production, I think this combination, with Miller as the Creature and Darling Husband as Victor, was the most rich and resonant, for me at least. 

I was disappointed in how consistent the rest of the cast's performances were - sadly I have nothing to report on how vastly different the supporting roles were played opposite these two very different actors (damn professionals).  

Boyle's whole experiment in alternate casting is just so interesting.  To have the Creator become the Created, and vice-versa - over and over again - it speaks to humanity's endless struggle to relate to its origins, whatever they may be, and to the world we are forced into, and the endless love-hate cycle of existence.  Just brilliant.

You can still check out NT Live's 


at Cineplex.  Click


for more information.  One final note: While I applaud these initiatives for bringing new audiences to theatre, I'd also like to remind all you readers that we have wonderful artists making excellent theatre right here in Vancouver.  So if you buy a ticket for


 please do also buy a ticket to see something right here in your hometown.  We appreciate your support.