Broadcast Text reviews of :BRANTWOOD 1920-2020, TOM AT THE FARM

by Lynn on April 17, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, April 17, 2014. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm Brantwood 1920-2020 through Sheridan College until May 3, and Tom at the Farm at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until May 10

The host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre talk time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What’s up this week?

Two very intriguing shows. First up is an astonishing show called >Brantwood 1920-2020 which looks at the history of the school over its 100 years before it’s taken over for development.

And Tom at the Farm by Michel Marc Bouchard at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, about a man who has lost his lover and goes to his lover’s funeral.

Let’s start with Brantwood 1920-2020. Why is it astonishing?

Because of the enormous scope of the piece. It involves 40 actors playing 100 parts. There are 200 scenes with 40 musical numbers. It’s billed as an immersive musical theatre experience. And it’s produced by Sheridan College—it’s their Canadian music theatre project.

All the actors are students, except for 4 professional actors. And the result is astonishing. I have to say that this is not a review, per se…they let me see a preview.But what I saw and experienced is jaw dropping.

Ok. Tell us about the production.

The audience meets at the box office at Sheridan College. They are given a ticket and a graduating gown. The audience represents the final graduating class. They then get on school busses that take them to Brantwood school. On the bus they are given a map to the school. It might also help if there was a brief idea of the different stories over the decades.

The audience then meets on the lawn of the school, listens to the principal’s greetings, and then realizes that behind them are ghosts of previous years of graduating classes. The audience is then beckoned by one of these ghosts to follow him or her into the school. You can continue following that character or another depending on their story line.

There are 11 story lines, one for each decade plus a look into the future. 15 scenes are happening all over the school at the same time.

You are invited to look everywhere, in drawers, in cupboard, in lockers—I looked in several lockers and they were full of school stuff, odd postings; pictures—each has a story.

Bulletin boards had provocative notices, such as “No Dogs or Jews” next to a sign that said, “Cut out Racism” Next to another that says there would be no bullying in the school.

As I went from place to place, bullying is rife. A young boy in a dress is bullied for his attire. A young innocent girl is bullied because she is shy and inexperience with boys. The principal is having an affair with a teacher and perhaps even a student. And the principal is selling drugs on the side.


Is it possible to see all the storylines at one time?


No but I don’t think that’s the point. You will get as many experiences as you have time for in the three hours you will be at the school. There is a scene in the future. A bank of lockers is pushed aside revealing a door way and as you go through it there is a condo, obviously built on the site of the former Brantwood school. The man who lives there seems to be haunted by the sounds of the previous inhabitants of the school. The point is to be immersed in this hugely inventive experience.

There have been other theatre events like this in the past haven’t there?

Yes. Years ago there was Tamara that took place in a mansion and we followed characters from room to room with their various story lines.

Last summer in London there was The Drowning Man, created by Punchdrunk, that took place in a deserted film studio and the audience wandered from place to place following characters.

Right now in New York there is Sleep No More, also created by Punchdrunk that takes place in a derelict building, fitted out to be a recreation of the Macbeth story. The audience wears white masks to set them apart from the actors, as the audience goes from room to room following characters.

And with Brantwood 1920-2020 there is a tip of the hat to that New York experience…on a shelf in the condo scene are two white masks from Sleep No More.

The idea for Brantwood 1920-2020 was conceived, co-created and co-written by Mitchell Cushman and Julie Tepperman—two of this city’s most creative theatre artists.

Special mention has to be made of Jon Grosz and Kenneth MacKenzie who did the set and props. The building was completely bare when they got inside.

They created the whole world of that school from the lockers to the furniture, props, the real hot-dog machine in the school cafeteria in which an audience member helped himself (we are invited to do that). There are secret rooms that are hidden in plain sight.

This is a herculean achievement of logistics, design, direction, co-ordination and performance. And it’s a Sheridan College Production starring their graduating students who will be our future professional actors.

This is not a formal review, but people have to see this, and wear comfortable shoes.

And tell us about Tom at the Farm.

Tom at the Farm was written by Michel Marc Bouchard and translated beautifully by Linda Gaboriau.

It’s about Tom who has come to a rural farm to attend the funeral of his lover who died in a motorcycle accident. Tom meets his lover’s mother Agathe and his brother Francis. Agathe doesn’t know anything of her son’s homosexuality and certainly doesn’t know that Tom is her late son’s lover.

She just thinks they worked together at the office. Francis does know his brother was gay and of course hides it. Tom stays on the farm helping out and loves it. He finds a joy in the work. But there is an odd relationship with Francis who is rough, dangerous, sadistic, and perhaps also with conflicted sexuality. And he has been ostracized because of violent behaviour.

But that is the beautiful mystery of a Michel Marc Bouchard play. There are so many layers of intrigue and discovery. As he is quoted in a program note, “as homosexuals we learn how to lie before we learn how to love.” The play is full of such struggles, not only for Tom but for Francis and Agathe.

Last week on the show we had Eda Holmes, the director of the play talking about the production. How is it?

Eda Holmes has done a fine job of directing. The play is full of pent up emotion that often erupts. She paces it all so that we are gripped as it all unfolds. You can’t let it all erupt at once or it becomes one long harangue.

Holmes has a delicate, but firm touch. She has a dancer’s eye in the staging. But also a director’s keen perception of how to get an actor to subtly reveal his/her secrets as mysteries are revealed.

How is the acting?

At the centre of the play is Tom and he is beautifully played by Jeff Lillico. Tom is consumed with grief, being alone, feeling awkward with his lover’s mother and his brother; trying to find his own place, his own peace, until he reacts and all these conflicting feelings are beautifully revealed in this sensitive performance.

As Francis, Jeff Irving uses brute force to hid his secrets and even to protect his brother’s name to some extent. He’s full of bluster, danger, and his own kind of sexuality.

As Agathe, Rosemary Dunsmore gives a powerful performance of a mother who has been aching since her son left home abruptly with out a word and never returned. Now she has to turn that into grief since she has lost him for good and finds that she didn’t know him at all. She clings to Tom to tell her about her son, even stuff she didn’t want to know. It’s a performance of rage, loss, disappointment and love.

Christine Horne plays the small part of Sara who is being passed off as the girlfriend of the dead man so Agathe can at least feel that her son had someone in his life. She is confident, very funny, properly awkward in trying to bring off the ruse, and blunt when it doesn’t work. It’s a play about secrets, loss, being alone and the ache of love. Worth a visit.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at twitter @slotkinletter

Brantwood 1920-2020 plays until May 3.

Tom At the Farm plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until May 10.

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