Buy a Megaphone Magazine.

Living and working in Gastown, I've gotten to know, or at least recognize, a number of the homeless (or at risk of being homeless) folks who frequent our neighbourhood.  My living room features a large piece of art I bought on the street from Ken Foster.  I always donate to the "condom lady," who walks around giving out condoms, lube and information on sexually transmitted diseases.  I never hesitate to walk around my neighbourhood, at night or any other time of day and have never felt the need to avoid the colourful cast of characters who form such a large part of Gastown's culture. 

There's one guy in particular who always sits outside the Tim Hortons in the bottom of my office building.  He doesn't say much, nor does he carry a sign of any kind.  He just sits cross-legged, sometimes gently rocking back and forth, and waits.  I've occasionally bought him meals, and have seen other people do the same.  I've always had a soft spot for this guy - I'm not sure why.  It may be because he doesn't ask for help, or demand my attention.  But it may also be - and this sounds terribly judgmental of me - because he looks so much like a regular everyday joe. 

It's easy to demonize some of the scarier people who approach you on the Downtown Eastside, with huge haunted eyes, arms riddled with track marks, clothes in rags, who scream obscenities at you when you don't give them what they want.  That's not this guy.  He just seems like a "normal" person who has been dealt so much bad luck that he's buckled under the weight of it.  In truth, all of these people deserve our attention and compassion, all of them have been the victim of personal tragedies.  All of them are living their own version of "normal."  I'm not saying it's right to judge any of them, or to feel more compassion for one than the other.  What I am saying is that this guy who sits outside the Tim Hortons has not become such a shell of his former self that I can't recognize a bit of myself in him.  I think that's why I feel personally affected by him.  

I ran some errands at lunch today, and as I returned to the office, I saw him.  Standing on the corner - the first time in however many years that I've seen him standing up - was Tim Hortons Guy.  He was up, dressed, and selling copies of Megaphone magazine and also the Hope in Shadows calendar.  I did a double take as I walked by him  - was that really him?  It was!  I was almost in the office door before I turned around.  "How much is the calendar," I shouted back to him.  "Twenty," he yelled back.  "And the magazine?"  "Two bucks."  I dug in my purse for my wallet, walking back to him.

"I don't have a twenty," I said apologetically.  "But I'll take a magazine."  He looked at me quizzically.  "Didn't I already sell you a calendar?" he asked.  "No," I said, "but I'm glad you're selling them!"  He grinned.  I handed him my toonie, took my magazine, and went into the building.  I felt so proud of this guy, so happy to see him standing on his own two feet, in every sense of the word, wishing I could tweet/Facebook/text every single person to go and buy a magazine, a calendar, whatever this guy was selling, now that he'd decided he was worth the effort.  It completely made my day.  


For those who aren't familiar with Megaphone, it's a street paper, that operates much the same way that the Big Issue program does in the UK.  Sellers buy the magazines for 75 cents.  They sell them for $2, which means they make $1.25 for each magazine they sell.  If you see a vendor, pick one up.  There is a "Find a Vendor" function on the Megaphone website that can point you towards sellers.  


Megaphone also released a report this week on homelessness deaths, based on data they had compiled from the BC Coroner's Service.  The average life expectancy for a homeless person in BC is between 40 and 49 years of age, around half the life expectancy for a British Columbian, generally speaking.  There are approximately 16,000 homeless people in the province.  That's a lot of us who are at risk.  If it only costs you $2 to help a person make their life a little better, or a little longer, will you do it?

Neighourhood Food: Finch's Tea and Coffee House

I discovered Finch's, located at the corner of West Pender and Richards, in 2007 and it's been a favourite ever since.  I used to be able to spend a leisurely Saturday morning/afternoon reading my book, sipping on a steamed soy milk with maple syrup, and picking away at a delicious sandwich, but now it's so busy you can't get in the door a lot of the time - which is really my only complaint.

  NO, I do not mind that it takes a long time for my food to be made.  It is fresh, carefully crafted, and always delicious.  If you're in a rush, this isn't the place for you and the food isn't meant to be enjoyed quickly anyway!

I highly recommend the Pear Baguette (prosciutto, pears and blue brie, with walnuts and olive oil), but also really enjoy the Applewood Smoked Cheddar baguette (filled with fresh lettuces, cucumber and tomato and liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper).  The oatmeal chocolate chip cookie is my favourite (beware: it has raisins), but somehow the cookies are always magically warm and gooey.  

The decor here is also charming, cozy and non-pretentious.  Great for breakfast too.  While it may not look like much from the outside, Finch's is a great place to have a meal or spend time with friends.

The Smoked Applewood Cheddar Baguette.

The Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip cookies.  Somehow always magically warm.

* This review appears on my Yelp page, which you can visit at

for more reviews.  Thanks to Yelp for making me Yelp Elite '14!

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.

Neighbourhood Food: Cadeaux Bakery

A beautiful little spot tucked away at the edges of "respectable" Gastown, at 172 Powell Street, 


is mostly a working kitchen and a counter featuring the daily spread, but there are a few places to sit down, and if you can manage to snag one it's a great place to sit and have a leisurely coffee or tea and chat with a friend.

The London Fog cake is hands down my favourite item here.  A vanilla layered cake, the hint of bergamot is truly evocative of a warm tea latte, and the whipped frosting is not too heavy - it's like the foam on top of that latte.  It's still a super-rich, decadent treat, but you won't feel heavy and weighed down after eating it - just totally, completely satisfied.

On our visit today my fella had the Bacon Swirl - a cinnamon twist featuring bacon.  Now THAT was rich - and S. remarked that he couldn't actually taste the bacon, as opposed to say, the Maple Bacon Fritter at 49th Parallel/Lucky's Donuts.  It was definitely there, but the buttery pastry and the cinnamon really overpowered any accent the bacon could have provided.

The only reason this place doesn't get a 5 stars from me is the lack of sit-down seating, the limited range of take-home treats, and the fact that the coffee is not as great as it could/should be to accompany such sweet treats.  But the baking itself is divine, and the staff is lovely.

The Bacon Swirl.  Yep.

Try one of the truffles if you're looking for a small sweet.  This is Salted Caramel Pecan.

Neighbourhood Food: Nicli Antica Pizzeria

Having spent a fair amount of time in Italy, I like to think I know pizza.  So I am gratified that local neighbourhood joint Nicli Antica Pizzeria, at 62 East Cordova (just before Columbia), also knows pizza.

S. and I went for brunch today and found the place nearly empty at 1 p.m.  S. ordered the Funghi - a pizza with a tomato base featuring basil, mozzarella and mushrooms - and I had the Basil Pesto BBT, which has bacon, basil and baby cherry tomatoes.

The pizza dough, this time, was perfect: chewy but crispy where it had been roasted on the outside edges, and the ingredients were fresh, as always.  My only complaints would be that sometimes the crust is hit or miss - I've had some pizzas delivered to the table on previous visits that were too charred or my liking - and that the BBT was swimming in oil from the pesto - I would have preferred at tomato base for this pizza at the end of the day.

Aside from the food, the atmosphere is great (minimalist white decor, white crisp linens, shining silver flatware and fresh flowers), the service is attentive without being annoying, and the price point is good for a date night or work lunch.  And $5 mimosas for Sunday brunch?  Yes please!

These oils added some colour and warmth to the otherwise white and minimalist table.  Unfortunately my BBT pizza was too oily to warrant giving these a try...

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.

Police Incident.

On Saturday I met my friend Rosie for coffee at 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters.  It was a beautiful day and since it might be one of the last beautiful days we have in Vancouver until, well, May,  we decided to sit on the patio.  About 10 feet away from the patio, on 13th Avenue, there was some police tape, and the alley behind the cafe was cordoned off, with some police officers standing by.

On my way into 49th Parallel, I had noticed a crowd gathering by the police tape.

"What's going on?" I asked one bystander.  They explained that there was a man barricaded in a house in the alley, who had apparently set the house on fire the night before, and was now refusing any entry by the fire department or police officers.  He was waving a knife around.   At that point I counted about 15 police officers, some in tactical "SWAT" style gear, and figured they had the situation more than under control. 

We were sitting on the patio talking when all of a sudden I started sneezing uncontrollably.   Then, while Rosie was staring at me quizzically as I sneezed again and again, she started sneezing too.  Then we started coughing.  And everyone around us started coughing and sneezing, and choking.

"Oh god," I choked.  "I think they're gassing him out!  Quick, get inside!"

The crowd gathering on 14th and Main to watch what was going on.  They had a better vantage point than we did on 13th.  Photo credit: Georgia Straight. 

As we gathered our stuff and made our way into the cafe, Rosie looked over at the cops manning the police tape.  They were outfitted with masks, and stood watching us, arms crossed, and laughing.  They were



That was it for me.  It would have taken not even 5 minutes for them to walk over, say, "We'd like to clear this patio, please get inside," or ask 49th Parallel's staff to do so, and close the garage doors to the patio.  Not only did they


do that, but they laughed. 

I have been very sympathetic to Vancouver police officers.  I see the beat some of them walk in my neighbourhood every day.  I watched them clear street after street of drunken hockey rioters.   But they lost some support from me in the way they handled this incident.  They would have compromised nothing by asking us to go inside.  It wouldn't have been a red flag to crazy knife wielding guy in any way whatsoever.  They wouldn't have even needed to tell us why they wanted us to go inside.  It was a simple gesture that would have saved a number of us a very uncomfortable afternoon and evening (and even day after) of sore throats, itchy eyes and runny noses.  This was a communication fail and an absolute disregard for affected community members.

So, now I've been tear gassed.  I can cross that off my bucket list, I suppose.

On another note, 49th Parallel is one of my favourite cafes in town.  Beautiful coffee and amazing ambiance - just beware the chemical weapons. 

The amazing Venezualan Latte at 49th Parallel.  Ask for it without the tear gas, and with extra foam. 

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.

On Donuts.

So you may recall my

earlier post

on local donut celebrity

Cartems Donuterie

.  My adorable friend Louisa has a food vlog where she talks about all things yummy - here's her latest, on Cartems:

Speaking of Cartems, yesterday amazing corporate food delivery service

delivered my a half-dozen of these babies at work, free!  Thanks for the free donuts,!

Free Cartems!  Thanks,! is a free service that takes care of everything from staff birthday cakes, to team lunches to casual beers.  Their staff (who hand delivered my donuts yesterday) were oh-so-friendly and full of suggestions of great places to eat...give them a try if you're ordering for your workplace or a large crowd.

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 


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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.