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Hobson’s Choice: British plays winning raves in amateur theatre


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Britain’s Caryl Churchill is considered one of the English-speaking world’s greatest living playwrights yet her work is relatively unknown in Calgary. But suddenly, Churchill’s name is on the lips of many in the amateur theatre community.

Night Ducks Theatre’s production of Churchill’s 1978 one-act play Seagulls took three of the six awards at the recent Calgary One Act Play Festival and will represent Calgary at the provincial festival in Canmore on May 27 and 28. Workshop Theatre will present Churchill’s 2016 surreal tragicomedy Escaped Alone at the Pumphouse Theatre from April 8-16.

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Escaped Alone opened at The Royal Court Theatre in London in 2016 to rapturous acclaim for its examination of a distinctly female view of an impending apocalypse.

Director Breezy Manning says she chose Escaped Alone because “it is a convention-defying play that juxtaposes backyard tea with environmental disaster, exploring themes of politics, crisis, communication and female endurance. It’s a play about tea and catastrophe.

“This is a play that celebrates the often unheard voices and feelings of aging women stressing the resilience it takes to survive 70 years as a woman in a moribund and rapacious culture.”

Manning admits the structure of Churchill’s play proved challenging for everyone at Workshop, herself and her cast included. Workshop’s Escaped Alone stars Rose Bene, Denise Vaile, Joanne Wheeler and Trish Clark.

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“The way Churchill leaves her script extremely open to interpretation is both welcoming and frightening. Each cast member took her character under her wings and found what makes her unique. The way Churchill is able to turn such a simple concept of four friends reminiscing and talking into such a captivating evening is amazing, which is why this production has been such a pleasure for all of us to work on,” says Manning.

Escaped Alone’s producer Amanda Jane adds “Workshop Theatre generally produces plays that require big, elaborate sets, many costumes and props that are placed and moved around the stage from start to finish. Escaped Alone is a much simpler, ultimately more heartwarming play.

“The connections and friendships that have been built among the cast and with the crew members reflect those of the women in the play and will last a lifetime because they are so real. This is something the audience will sense and share when they see the play.”

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Jane stresses “as much as there are deep and dark themes, there are also many joyful and engaging moments in the play.”

Escaped Alone is being presented in the Pumphouse’s intimate Joyce Doolittle Theatre April 8 and 9 and again April 12 through 16 at 7:30 p.m. with 2:30 p.m. matinees on both Saturdays.

SEAGULLS SWOOPED OFF WITH MAJOR AWARDS AT ONE ACT FESTIVAL

As noted above, the recent One Act Play Festival at the Pumphouse Theatre saw Night Duck’s production of Seagulls take awards for directing and technical excellence as well as being named the outstanding production of the festival. It will now represent Calgary in the provincial finals in Canmore on May 27-28.

The festival’s adjudicator, local film, television and stage actor David Haysom, said Seagulls “was a well-rehearsed and beautifully crafted piece by director Sally Cacic. I was impressed with how much thought and detail went into all aspects of design and performance.”

In naming Arlene Irwin the best female actor of the festival for her performance in A Lady of Letters, Haysom said she “delivered an elegant solo performance of a lonely woman using colourful, subtle choices that led the audience to the heartbreaking root and soul of her character.”

Haysom applauded Ray Mergen’s performance in Perfect Psychos for its “spot-on comedic delivery and timing and his clever depiction of the character’s fearful situation, providing the audience with a great many laughs.”

Yasmin Khan’s play Everybody Loves Raita was named outstanding new work.

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