In the Wake – Review

In the Wake


June 15 to 17, 2012


If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ve no doubt heard me speak about what it is I hope for when seeing a piece of theatre. I’ve mentioned risk and excitement and surprise and challenge and wonder as all things I long for every time the lights go down and the actors take the stage. A kind of Holy Grail theatre experience if you will where not everything has to be perfect to be perfectly thrilling for me.

In the Wake, part of this year’s Magnetic North Uprising Festival and winner of the 2010 Betty Mitchell Award winner for Outstanding New Play , handed me that moment this evening.

Created by  Calgary’s Downstage Creation Ensemble, the play tells the epic story of a sea that has run out of fish, the fishermen who suffer as a result, the scientist who has a solution and the politics both academically and federally that stymie all efforts at making positive change.

A very complicated and complex story that is told with breathtaking simplicity, unexpected humour and outrageously creative choreography entirely atop a 6′ X 3′ illuminated platform with four actors and live musical accompaniment.

With no props save the physical contouring and morphing of the actors to create everything from the ocean’s tide to a sailing ship to a bar to the cutest barnacles you’ve ever seen, the cast does triple duty as the characters, sets and props. I’ve seen this effect done well and I’ve seen it done poorly, but I don’t’ think I’ve ever seen it done with such lovely precision, effortless flow or obvious delight as In the Wake gives us.

Equally as stupendous is  the traditional performance of the cast. Braden Griffiths, Nicola Elson and Col Cseke, each playing several characters in the narrative, show acting chops far beyond their youthful appearances and I would gladly go to another production featuring any one of these talents. Special mention has to go to Ellen Close though whose portrayal of a French fisherman, the Minister of Fisheries and a little girl is astonishing in its range and  ability to switch characters without skipping a beat or losing audience engagement.

The risky part of the production is that the story takes place within the confines of a small platform with the four actors present at all times. The risk is handsomely rewarded as the performance feels expansive with the ability to conjure place and atmosphere. This is a true testament to the very masterful direction of Simon Mallet. His staging elegantly coordinates four very active cast members in a physically demanding performance for 75 minutes without getting stale of relying on cheap gags to keep it entertaining. One scene in particular that takes place on the floor of the Parliament during a policy argument is one of the most creative and well laid out theatrical moments I’ve seen this year.

Accompanying the story and often driving it is a beautifully orchestrated original score by Ethan Cole that uses keyboard, drums and guitar to create the mood of each scene and aid in the character and set segues. As intriguing as the action on stage was, I often found myself happily getting a bit lost in the music for its own merits.

However, just like the perfect Grail is merely a myth, In the Wake is not perfection from start to finish. At 75 minutes it felt a bit draggy in certain places and could have used a good edit to keep the pacing tighter and the momentum stronger. As wonderful as the fishermen gathering with their union and the scientist meeting with her superior scenes were, they felt a tad repetitive as the play went on.

But even without that 10 or 15 minute edit, In the Wake was a joy for all my theatre senses. My mind whirled, my eyes delighted and my ears sang along. Thank you to the entire Downstage team for allowing me to hold my Grail in victory for this one very memorable night in the theatre.



For the guys and the girls – Yes there is an environmental message here, but far from heavy-handed, the play is funny, interesting and undeniably cool. SEE IT

For the occasional theatre goers – I rarely encourage you to see ‘experimental’ theatre. But if you are feeling frisky and want to try something new, this is one of the best examples of cutting edge creativity meeting great story telling. MAYBE SEE IT

For the theatre junkie – Having already enjoyed two runs in Calgary, it’s likely you’ve seen this play before. If like me you hadn’t – clear your schedule and go. SEE IT

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