by Lynn on July 24, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, July 24, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 f: The Twelve-Pound Look at the Shaw Festival until September 12, 2015 and Betroffenheit at the Bluma Appel Theatre, as part of Panamania until July 25, 2015.

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?

I have two shows, as usual. First the provocative comedy The Twelve-Pound Look by J. M. Barrie, first produced in London in 1910. That plays at the Shaw Festival.

And then something completely different, Betroffenheit the gut-twisting, beautiful dance-performance piece about loss and coming to terms with it. This plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre as part of Panamania.

Let’s start with the provocative comedy The Twelve-Pound Look. Why is it provocative?

Somehow you don’t expect the man who wrote Peter Pan, in which the lost boys didn’t think girls could do anything boys could do, to write a sharp, perceptive, modern play about feminism, a women’s independence from a men, championing women’s rights.

But he did.

The Twelve-Pound Look suggests that marriage is not the be all and end all in a woman’s existence, no matter how rich or successful the man is, although a man might think so.

You better tell us the story.

Sir Harry Sims is a prosperous, successful man, about to be knighted in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. He and his young wife are delighted, going so far as to practice the bowing, kneeling, the sword tap on the shoulders and the rising and backing away.

Harry has received so many congratulatory notes he needs a secretary to answer them. So he hires one who comes to his house, with her own typewriter, ready for work.

But…there is a problem. The woman who appears, named Kate, is in fact Harry’s first wife. They were married years before and she found it intolerable after a time so she left. Now that she is here—he means to find out who the man was she left him for. It had to be a man. Harry wants to know who it was so he can destroy him. Kate stuns him with her reason for leaving.

She scrimped and saved what little money she could from what he gave her to run the house, bought a typewriter for £12, taught herself to use it and then began work as a typist. With that £12 Kate bought her freedom.

Harry is aghast. He can’t imagine why a woman would leave the lap of luxury, with every pretty dress and bauble at her disposal in his fine house. His gorgeous, beautifully dressed second wife (Lady Sims) he says is content to stay home and be his wife and take care of the children.

Kate has an answer for that too.

At one point she calmly uses the phrase pin-prick to describe something about him. I think one of those words is more apt.

How’s the production?

It’s a gem. It’s this year’s Shaw Festival lunch time play. It’s funny but with a punch. It’s written more than 100 years ago but is as modern as the next women’s protest for equality and equal pay with men.

I love the surprise of it—that it’s written by J.M. Barrie, a feminist if ever there was one.

It’s directed with skill and style by Lezlie Wade and has a stellar cast. Patrick Galligan is a wonderful actor with grace and sophistication. Here he plays Sir Harry with all his arrogance, narrow-minded chauvinism and sense of superiority. But we don’t hate him because of Galligan’s playing of him. We sort of nod slightly and suck in our cheeks at the silliness of the man.

As his young wife, Lady Sims, Kate Besworth is the dutiful, accommodating young wife who smiles demurely and doesn’t make waves. When she has a conversation with Kate the typist, Lady Sims comes face to face with an independent woman who can come and go as she pleases. As far as Lady Sims is concerned, Kate is to be admired not pitied.

And finally, Kate is played beautifully by Moya O’Connell. She appears, bespectacled, prim, business brown skirt and jacket—anything but glamourous. But the point is not the glamour, it’s the resolve, tenacity, smarts and quick wit of Kate. All that comes out in this nuanced, thoughtful performance of Moya O’Connell. And she knows how to float a zinger too.

The Twelve-Pound Look provides some spice and laughs to the lunch hour. Terrific production.

And tell us about Betroffenheit. First of all, what does it mean?

Betroffenheit means “shock, bewilderment, or impact….is the state of having been met, stopped, stuck or perplexed in the face of a particular event.”

Ok we know what it means. What’s the show about?

It’s a dance, performance drama piece about the gut-twisting effects of loss, both physically and mentally on a person. It’s written by Jonathan Young who also performs in the piece. It’s choreographed and directed by Crystal Pite and performed by six dancers (including Young) in which five of the dancers are members of Kidd Pivot—a terrific dance troupe in Canada.

While dance is not my forte, I can certainly comment on the verve, energy and electricity popping up from the dancers as well as the drama of the piece.

Act I is almost like psychotherapy 101. A man, wallowing in grief at a loss of a loved one he might have saved, repeats a set of statements, rules and ideas to get him through. Much of the sayings and repetitions try to convince him that he was not responsible for the accident that took that loved one’s life.

He has an alter ego in one of the dancers who mirrors his movements and mouths his sayings back to him. Any of the dialogue is really the voice of Jonathan Young, either live or as a recorded voice. He repeats the mantra in an effort to feel but also to accept, embrace and get through the grief.

In Act I the dancers also incorporate Jonathan Young into their dancing. That is mighty impressive. Jonathan Young is known mainly as an actor/writer. He can now add dancer. He is like a rag doll, tossed and turned around the stage, consumed with grief, almost comatose but still determined to live.

Act II involves the dancers frenetically, athletically hurtle across the stage in dance, illuminating not only the personal physical effects of such a loss, but also the effects on a relationship. In short, sharp bursts we see a couple quarreling heatedly, both as forcefully as the other.


Then a woman slumps against the wall, dejected as the man slowly walks away into shadow. But through it all, the man prevails, coping, accepting, and dealing with the loss.

Statistics state that after a family tragedy in which a child has died, many relationships are strained and quite often the relationship/marriage breaks down and ends.

Is it a successful blending of dance and drama?

I certainly think so. Jonathan Young brings all the heartache of the physical loss of a loved one to his story and performance.That it’s based on a personal loss for Jonathan Young is all the more gripping, but you don’t need to know that for the piece to work.

Crystal Pite as choreography and director has such a theatrical vision that the artistry rises above the sadness of the story. You are drawn emotionally into the story, but you are also at a remove watching. Her dancers are like explosions of energy—flipping, twisting, hurtling through the air soundlessly.

This is part of Panamania. Don’t miss this even though the run is short.

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

The Twelve-Pound Look plays at the Shaw Festival until September 12.

Betroffenheit plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until July 25.

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