Too bad the run of Fathom , by Montreal's SaBooge Theatre , was so short. It had only four performances during the busy holiday season, so many Toronto theatregoers couldn't check it out.
While the narrative (a conchologist discovers a wheezing young man whose natural habitat is under water) is sometimes predictable, its staging is frequently striking. Set in 1837 Tasmania, it's populated by a group of eccentrics who point up the humanity in the supposedly freakish central figure.
At base, Fathom is about power: those with it, those controlled by it and the jealous attacks and counterattacks that keep it shifting back and forth.
The play, devised by the company, is strongest in its imaginative visuals. A growing wash line of sheets billows in the breeze, characters are blown around on a windy hillside, a wave-tossed boat makes slow progress and, perhaps best of all, theatrical magic creates the illusion of swimming underwater. There's another fine episode in which the cast of five offers a truncated history of one character in about 60 seconds; each little detail suggests a wealth of storyline.
Simon Harding 's lighting and production design and Jeff Lorenz 's sound design also add to the imagistic strength of the show, which at times moved in a stylized, cinematic fashion.
Standouts in the cast are the water-breathing Fabian, played with wide-eyed innocence by Patrick Costello , and Adrienne Kapstein as his mother, Sarah, who wants to preserve the secret of her extraordinary offspring.
Hope the company makes a return visit soon.
The Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio usually mines rarely staged works for its annual outing. This year they went for one of Mozart 's most popular works, The Magic Flute , presented in an easy-to-understand English translation and directed by music critic Andrew Porter .
No surprise that the staging was pretty traditional, since Porter argues that the piece works well enough without "ingenious directorial inventions." But he could have given it more dramatic hills and valleys even if he didn't want a concept production; there was an even sameness to much of the three-hour show, suggesting that a concert version would have been as effective as this production.
Still, the importance of the Ensemble presentation is to give its members and a few guest artists a chance to shine, and they frequently did. Seeing two performances -- with some double casting -- a day apart proved that any production gets better the more it's played. Too bad reviewers rarely get to write about performances later in any run. Even the orchestra, conducted by Richard Bradshaw , was more alert in the later show.
Victor Micallef 's heroic prince Tamino, for instance, was relaxed and more confident by his second show; musically and dramatically, his performance was impressive. Others, such as Nikki Einfeld as the vocally high-flying Queen of the Night, Joni Henson , Melinda Delorme and Lauren Segal as her three attendant Ladies, Lawrence J. Wiliford 's villainous Monostatos and Alain Coulombe as a sonorous Sarastro had their parts well defined from the start.
In the double-cast roles, Peter Barrett was a charming and personable crowd-pleaser as the feathered birdcatcher Papageno; he knows how to play up the role's humour and shape its music. Justin Welsh , who sang the second performance, had a more modern yet also a broader, less nuanced approach to the role. Both had fun with Michéle Bogdanowicz , who twittered away with comic appeal as the equally birdlike Papagena.
And while the opening-night Pamina, Virginia Hatfield , has a large, sweet voice, she doesn't yet have the dramatic presence of the role's other performer, Miriam Khalil , who's just as strong a singer as Hatfield.