Review: Brimstone and Treacle (Precisely Peter Productions)

Nicole BT high

Brimstone and Treacle is a darkly twisted comedy on stage at the Sidemart Theatrical Grocery in Toronto

The set of Brimstone and Treacle was positively quaint in the middle of the small Sidemart Theatrical Grocery. It was as if set designer Rachel Forbes stole a living room from 1960s Britain and propped in front of me. It wasn’t a set, but a real home. If only I had been invited in for tea. I would have to be satisfied with sitting only a few feet away and watching.

Brimstone and Treacle was written by the late playwright Dennis Potter. The play was originally made for the BBC’s Play for Today series in the early seventies. The play was considered too shocking and was banned from the series. Even now, even though the content is not too controversial to be put on stage, it can still be called shocking. If I had pearls to clutch, I would’ve clutched them. Even with my dark imagination, I did not expect the direction the show went to. Boundaries were definitely crossed.

The play is about Tom and Amy Bates, a middle-aged couple struggling with the fact that their young daughter Patricia is bed-ridden and brain-damaged after a mysterious hit-and-run. Tom is protective of his household and distrustful of everyone outside it. Amy feels trapped by her duties as her daughter’s caretaker. They both face their problems when a stranger, Martin Taylor, comes into their home saying that Patricia was the love of his life.

Rod Ceballos played Tom Bates as a man stuck in the glories of the past. Even in his moments of vulnerability, I still found him to be a frustrating character. Brigitte Robinson was amazing as Amy Bates. She was the perfect vision of a doting mother. Ceballos and Robinson convinced me that they truly loved their daughter, but expressed it in their unique ways. Nicole Wilson as Pattie Bates did not have much dialogue, but I must give her kudos for staying in character for so long.

Scott Garland as Martin Taylor was an absolute stand-out. The moment he started talking I thought, “Hello, Lucifer.” Garland was impeccably devilish. He was sly and charming, but cruel intentions lay behind every smile he flashed to the audience. He was a professional con artist and he knew it. He reeked with smugness and self-satisfaction. He was despicable and he loved it. I was simultaneously disgusted and impressed.

Beyond the great acting and the smart direction by John Shooter, I have to give credit to the Sound Designer Tim Lindsay. The background music veered between eerie and overly-cheery songs. Both were very unsettling in their own ways. The happy songs were especially good at putting me on edge. I didn’t trust the mood it set. Those songs were also a clever way of highlighting the naive hope of a perfect family and acting as a terrible contrast in a twisted story.

The show was very well done. It was dark, disturbing and very clever. I would recommend seeing this play with someone with a sick sense of humour, or at least someone who can handle their treacle with a little bit of brimstone.


Photo of Brigitte Robinson, Nicole Wilson and Scott Garland by Vicente Marana.