Now onstage at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre
Joe Szekeres, Canadian Theatre Critics' Association
This ‘Room’s’ emotional gut punch is still strongly evident for the most part at the Princess of Wales
After seeing the emotionally jaw dropping ‘Room’ at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre several weeks ago, I was making the sign of the cross and hoping I would receive another invitation to look at it once again. I’ll include the link to the Grand Theatre piece I had written at the end of this article.
Thank you to Mirvish for extending an invitation to return and see this extraordinary cast perform this almost near emotionally gut punching production which, despite its traumatic and possibly triggering storyline, remains triumphantly wonderful.
Kidnapped as a teenage girl, Ma (memorable work by Alexis Gordon) has been locked inside a purpose-built room in her captor’s garden for seven years. Her five-year-old son, Jack (played at this performance by the up-and-coming Lucien Duncan-Reid) has no concept of the world outside what he calls ‘Room’ and happily exists being there with the help of Ma, her games, and his vivid imagination where Rug, TV, Lamp, Plant, Bathtub, Table, Sink and Wardrobe are his only friends. The young Jack knows of the world through watching it on television but doesn’t grasp that it is possible for him to experience the world directly.
Ma makes an intense decision for she and her son to escape and face their biggest challenge to date: to learn to exist and be outside Room and to reconnect with the world she once knew over seven years ago.
When I saw the show at The Grand, there was so much to examine about the play regarding the plot, the characters, and the theatricality of the presentation. To watch the stage adaptation again with fresh eyes in knowing the plot has made me pay closer attention to important elements and fully appreciate them even more.
One example is the extraordinarily fascinating performance by Brandon Michael Arrington as SuperJack. For those who have read ‘Room’, SuperJack does not appear in the novel. In her Playwright’s Programme Note, Emma Donoghue states: “Adding SuperJack was a pragmatic device to avoid making our very young actors deliver long monologues, but [his addition] turned out to be a rich way of showing what superpowered ever-questioning minds can inhabit little bodies.”
Arrington’s inherent richness as an actor was powerfully reflected on this opening night, and most splendidly during the second act especially in his emotionally tortured musical solo. He and the adorable Lucien Duncan-Reid’s top-flight synchronicity in the gelling of child movement throughout the first act was a wonderful sight to behold and hear. It is in the second act where we see Arrington’s impressive work as an actor when he breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience compellingly.
Alexis Gordon’s triumphant performance as Ma continues to remain consistently compelling throughout as she so fearlessly revealed at The Grand. Her vocal solo at the end of Act One involving her son continues to soar past the rafters of the POW and still drew a tear from my eye. Ms. Gordon never one ventured over the top into histrionic shouting and crying in so many dramatic moments as she soundly remained in believable emotional control and always remained bravely aware in the present moment. From my seat in the house, I could just feel a credible and assured maternal connection she has made with the young Duncan-Reid through the passionately stirring gamut of feelings. Marvelous!
Supporting players continue to remain in superfine form. Ashley Wright is a weasly, terrifying and creepy Old Nick. As Ma’s parents who are experiencing familial and tense discord themselves, Tracey Ferencz’s Grandma soulfully searches within herself to do what’s best for Jack while Stewart Arnott’s Grandpa restores faith that one can truly change his vision of seeing things especially when the life of a child is at stake through no fault of his own. In her brief appearances as the police officer, television interviewer and Popcorn Server, Shannon Taylor serves as a stark warning of those individuals who may think they are doing their best to help understand the effects of trauma but in fact are only continuing the problem.
The sickeningly claustrophobic sound, look and feel of the ‘Room’ where Ma and Jack have struggled to live prevails and looms on the Princess of Wales stage. I had the perfect vantage point from my seat where I could see and study it carefully so once again attention must be paid to Bonnie Beecher’s subtle lighting design and John Gzowski’s distinct sound designs. Projection Designer Andrzej Goulding black silhouetted scrim with simple child drawings on stage right and stage left are clear reminders of the importance of knowing this story is told from a child’s perspective. The eerily humming and buzzing noise of what sounds like fluorescent lighting has been gorgeously captured audibly in the auditorium.
That marvelous choice to incorporate music and song for character development was an excellent choice so a huge credit of acknowledgment continues to be extended to Cora Bissett and Kathryn Joseph. I continued to glean so much about the characters from listening to the lyrics and hearing the music surrounding the plot action on stage. At the Grand, I spoke how Gavin Whitworth’s music direction sometimes overpowered the singers and I couldn’t clearly hear some of the song lyrics. That didn’t occur at all this time as I could clearly hear the words.
However, one component near the end of the play left both my guest and I feeling just a bit disappointed.
In the Grand production, there was a final onstage tableau in Act Two with Arrington, Duncan-Reid, and Alexis Gordon that remained embedded in my mind even as I wrote the article the next day. I don’t want to give that moment away, but a very important plot component was missing from the Toronto production where that final tableau did not punch gut me hard as it did at the Grand.
Just a slight quibble, that’s all.
Final Comments: This primo ‘Room’ cast deserves to be visited and experienced firsthand. Room is an unforgettable experience and reminder of the power of resiliency in extremely trying circumstances.
Covid Protocols in effect at the theatre.
Running Time: approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
‘Room’ runs to May 8 at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West. For tickets visit www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
My review of The Grand Theatre production: https://insidelookingin60.wixsite.com/mysite/post/review-room-now-onstage-at-london-ontario-s-grand-theatre
ROOM by Emma Donoghue, adapted for the stage by Emma Donoghue
In a co-production with the Grand Theatre, London, Ontario, and Covent Garden Productions, UK
With songs by Cora Bissett and Kathryn Joseph
Directed by Cora Bissett
Set and Costumes: Lily Arnold
Lighting Design: Bonnie Beecher
Movement Coach: Linda Garneau
Projection Design: Andrzej J. Goulding
Sound Design: John Gzowski
Fight & Intimacy Director: Siobhan Richarson
Associate Director: Megan Watson
Performers: Stewart Arnott, Brandon Michael Arrington, Levi Dombokah, Lucien Duncan-Reid, Tracey Ferencz, Alexis Gordon, Shannon Taylor, Ashley Wright. Starr Domingue, Thom Marriott, Christopher Parker, Alix Sideris