Review: The Little Years (Tarragon Theatre)

Be prepared to be moved by John Mighton’s The Little Years at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre

When I saw that playwright John Mighton had a new show at the Tarragon, I didn’t even bother reading the description for The Little Years, I just blindly signed up. The first show I ever watched in Toronto was A Short History of Night which is when I first fell in love with the theatre. I was barely sixteen at the time and I had no idea about the impact it would have on the rest of my career. Needless to say, I’m very nervous about writing this review and being able to do it justice.

The Little Years is one of those quiet shows that makes you think and at times laugh and ultimately breaks your heart, but without any of the loud and in-your-face drama that you get in some shows. It doesn’t need any of that. The show relies solely on the script and the acting and both are impeccable. 

I was a little apprehensive about taking my date to this show as so far we’ve seen more light-hearted, comedic types of shows and I wasn’t sure if this was quite up his alley, plus all the leads are female and I wondered if the subject matter would interest him at all. And I still wasn’t sure when the show had ended, but the moment we walked out of the theatre he turned to me and said – that is the best show he has ever seen. Phew!

The story basically follows three women who are related to each other. Alice (Chick Reid) who is the typical 1950s mom and obviously dotes on her accomplished son and nags at her “homely” daughter. Her daughter Kate (Irene Poole) who aspires to be a scientist and clearly has the brilliance to do so but is stifled in a world that has yet to recognize women as intelligent beings. And finally Grace, (Pamela Sinha) Kate’s kind and sexy sister-in-law who is constantly trying to help.

During the course of the play we see the characters transform. Alice grows old while still being unable to let go of her darling son. Grace the aspiring environmentalist turns into an adulterous housewife. And Kate whose pent-up genius has made her insane, or at least severely depressed. There is a lot more to the story but that’s all I’ll say.

My date and I thought the set design and lighting were stunning in this show. The set is minimalistic yet effective and perfect for the intimate setting of the Tarragon. They used every bit of the space to its fullest.

I had expected the acting in the show to be top notch considering the cast but I have no words for the phenomenal job they did. These women play all the different stages and emotions of life so well it was literally like watching their lives unfold. I know that’s what good acting is supposed to do but rarely have I seen it delivered like this. The characters are so relatable and well developed it adds a real depth to the show.

Kate is the kind of woman who has been dealt a pretty unfair hand by life but the more knocks she endures the colder and tougher she gets. Irene Poole plays Kate so well, it’s hard to tell where character ends and the actor begins. My date pointed out that the make-up and costumes were so well done that if he didn’t read the program he would have assumed that Kate was played by four different people. I hope Poole wins a Dora for this.

In the final scene there were tears all through the audience, myself included. There were a lot of young people in the audience and it was great to see how touched they were. This is a story that may seem like a period piece but the message it still relevant today.

Please go see this show. It’s a story that will touch your heart and probably make you cry but I promise it’s a story worth hearing.


The Little Years is playing at The Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave) till December 16, 2012
– Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm with additional matinees on most Saturdays at 2:30pm. Sunday show is at 2:30pm. There is no show on Wednesday Nov. 28, please check website for full schedule.
– Tickets range from $13 to $53
– Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 416-531-1827 or in person at the box office

Photo of Pamela Sinha, Chick Reid and Irene Poole by Cylla von Tiedemann