Against the Grain
Against the Grain Theatre continued their string of inventive, imaginative productions of operas and opera-related works last weekend with their take on Benjamin Britten's The Turn Of The Screw.
Director Joel Ivany staged the spooky chamber opera - adapted from Henry James's novella - at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, familiar to Fringe of Toronto audiences.
But few of us had ever entered the theatre via the back door and up shadowy staircases, which made it feel like we were scurrying about in an old home. Rather appropriate, since the opera concerns an unnamed governess (Miriam Khalil) who encounters some creepy things while looking after her two charges, Miles (Sebastian Gayowsky) and Flora (Johane Ansell).
The set proper, designed by Camellia Koo and evocatively lit by Jason Hand, was very effective, with the audience on either side of the leaf-strewn playing area. Two doors were positioned at either end, making for some suspenseful moments: where would a character emerge?
The opera itself was expertly performed, music director Christopher Mokrzewski bringing out all the complex colours in a piano reduction of Britten's score, which ranged from bucolic bliss to sinister grumblings. An early highlight is a quartet that interweaves a children's nursery rhyme.
The singers were excellent. Soprano Khalil proved as good an actor (especially expressive eyes to register fear) as she is a singer, with a full, rich-toned voice, while mezzo Megan Latham's housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, delivered some low notes so thrilling they curled your toes.
Ivany's staging of the act one closer, in which the ghosts of Quint (Michael Barrett) and Miss Jessel (Betty Allison) hover around the sleeping children, was especially creepy, and it was a nice touch to amplify Barrett's voice in an earlier scene to add to the haunting effects.
If we had a problem with the production, it was the acoustics. Because the walls were curtains, when singers had their backs to you it was difficult to hear them. And Britten's opera is less ambiguous about the governess's sanity than James's novella (or the film adaptation, The Innocents).
Still, this was a hugely atmospheric production of a rarely performed opera. Since there was big demand for its four performances, perhaps the company will remount it in the near future.
Don't be surprised if you see some red noses in the West Queen West area. And we're not talking about heavy drinkers.
The Toronto Festival of Clowns kicks off tonight and runs to June 3. It's got an international component this year, with renowned clown teacher Philippe Gaulier premiering his bouffon play La Gnole De Tante Christine Est Imbuvable (Aunt Aggie's Gut Rot Is Undrinkable), about two women trying to have a baby, performed in French with English surtitles.
Other highlights include Bleed, about a man (Phil Luzi) who stays home from work when he begins to bleed, and Saucisse: A Foo Musical, starring Helen Donnelly as a clown who becomes friends with a vegetarian pig.
And expect a political subtext in Yorkville Bitches Take On afFORDability, about socialites celebrating the death of a certain mayor.
Pia Bouman School. See listings.