Broadcast review text: She She Pop and their Fathers: Testament, and The War of 1812

by Lynn on April 19, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Cast of THE WAR OF 1812, photo: Michael Cooper

The following reviews were broadcast Friday, April 19, 2013 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM. SHE SHE POP and THEIR FATHERS: TESTAMENT at the Enwave Theatre until April 20, and The WAR OF 1812 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

1) Good Friday Morning. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn, what do you have this week?

I have two terrific shows this week Phil.

The first is SHE SHE POP and THEIR FATHERS: TESTAMENT, at the Enwave Theatre. It’s from Germany and is part of the World Stage Festival at Harbourfront.

The other play is THE WAR OF 1812. It’s part of that huge series of plays called The History of the Village of the Small Huts, 1812 to 1815, created by the wonderful Video Cabaret Theatre Company

2) What is She She Pop?

She She Pop is a collective of theatre artists from Germany who formed the company in the 1990s after they graduated from theatre school. They are not all female.There is one man in the acting ensemble. Their focus is to collaborate and create theatre. They write and perform their work. There is no director–sometimes that’s a mistake–but it’s fascinating to see the results with this company. And I have no idea what the name She She Pop means.

3) And their fathers are involved too? How so?

They use Shakespeare’s KING LEAR as a framing device.This is the second time King Lear is referenced in the World Stage Festival. For our purposes SHE SHE POP reviews and re-enacts the first scene of KING LEAR.

King Lear is getting old and wants to divest himself of his property. He wants to divide it amongst his three daughters but he plays a game with them first. He wants each daughter to tell him how much they love him and he will give them their share, even going so far as to suggest that one might get a bigger share. And he plans on living alternately with each daughter.

His favourite daughter Cordelia won’t play the game. She says she loves him like a daughter should and that should be all. This enrages Lear who banishes her and gives her portion to her sisters

She She Pop takes this further. With three of their fathers sitting in comfy chairs to the side of the stage, facing video cameras that capture their reactions, the company discourses on retirement, health care, inheritance, ill-health (their father’s not theirs), questioning who will take care of the elderly folks when the time comes? All the while there are references to the play, and to real life.

For example we hear a snippet of Nancy and her father Frank Sinatra singing “And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like I love you” which puts another light on KING LEAR, because the play in part is about love.

The contemporary issues are fascinating. There is one scene in which a caring daughter describes how she takes care of her father over the stages of his decline, and it is so moving.

4) How do the father’s enter into it, besides sitting and listening to the children’s arguments on the subjects?

They offer their own points of view and at its heart with these discussions is the different frames of reference between the generations. One father is an emeritus Physics Professor and with an easel and a large piece of paper creates an intricate diagram that explains the dynamic between a father and a daughter and how love enters the equation. It is fascinating, confounding and hilarious.

Another father and daughter discuss how will it be possible for the father to leave his large house and move in with his daughter when it’s necessary. What happens to his stuff? Who decides what he can take or not? Each makes his/her points and it’s done with quiet logic and respect. The company interact with the three fathers in such a way that you aren’t sure who is the child of what father. I liked that bit of being unsettled.

5) You certainly weren’t keen on the last time King Lear was referenced at the World Stage Festival. Why do you like this treatment so much?

I love the imagination of it—to take a play we all know and then turn it on its ear with new perceptions, insights, and how it applies to our aging population and the children who will be responsible for taking care of them.

It’s very theatrical using multi-media in interesting ways, perhaps occasionally getting to bogged down in
distraction, but on the whole it serves the piece.

I love the respect they all show each other. There is rancor sometimes, but there is that respect too. At the end both adult children and fathers itemize what they forgive the other for. Quite compelling, that.

To sum up, it’s a terrific, compelling, provocative piece of theatre that I recommend to anyone, and see it with a parent.

6) And THE WAR OF 1812; it’s obvious what it’s about, how do they do it?

It’s created by a company called Video Cabaret, that has been creating theatre like this since 1976. Composed of partners Michael Hollingsworth and Deanne Taylor.

Hollingsworth has written a huge series of plays chronicling the history of Canada since the beginning, under the title of THE HISTORY OF THE VILLAGE OF THE SMALL HUTS, and THE WAR OF 1812 is just a part.

Hollingsworth also directs them with assistance from Deanne Taylor. And they focus on the hardest subject to get across to young people—Canadian history. But as Hollingsworth says in his program note: it’s a comedy of manners, satirizing Canada’s various colonial periods. It’s an historical epic for an audience raised on Rock and TV. It is the goons of history in their own Goon Show…told by ghosts and demons”

The playing space is a black box like a television set. The scenes are very short and precise. A blackout ends a scene. A musical underscoring accents each scene and serves it beautifully. The essence of a character is created in Astrid Janson’s wonderfully overblown costumes, Alice Norton’s flamboyant wigs, the exaggerated makeup and over-sized props by Brad Harley.

Hollingsworth goes into the backrooms of power and shows how these devious, manipulative, naïve, arrogant people shaped the history of Canada, the US and Britain. It’s done with a sharp wit.

We see how President Madison plans on declaring war on Canada so that he can free the Canadians from the grip of the British…and of course to stop the Brits from blockading his trade with France.We see each of the characters who lead armies or fight in them, and how they scheme to out do the other.

7) Do they tell the story clearly?

Yes because they deal for the most part with the various characters and personalities.The egos, the arrogance, the sense of entitlement, the failures in high places, and the poor slump who has to fight or make a living in a hard land and people who fill the play and makes them pulse with life. We see that between the arrogance of the Americans and the British the smartest, most thoughtful character is Tecumseh. He sees how to fight and win and the futility of it all because goofballs are in charge.

Eight actors play several parts, each with a careful distinction, aided of course by the costumes and wigs etc. They are all inventive, spare in their stage business and absolutely convincing in their portrayals. That said, Richard Clarkin as General Winfred Scott, among others, had me gasping for air, he is so funny, as is Mac Fyfe as the very macho Captain Fitzgibbon and as the very fey General Proctor.

I think THE WAR OF 1812 is probably the funniest of the series, and they are all wildly funny, because of course we are dealing with the egos and stupidity of people in power.

I can’t think of a better way of learning about the history of Canada than by seeing a Video Cabaret show.

Thanks Lynn. That was Lynn Slotkin out theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

She She Pop and The Fathers: Testament plays at the Enwave Theatre until Saturday, April 20.

The War of 1812 continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts

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