by Dorianne Emmerton
The Girls Who Saw Everything is presented by Ryerson Theatre School with a cast of their fourth year graduating class and guest director Ruth Madoc-Jones. Madoc-Jones has been involved in some of the most intriguing new theatre in the city so I was intrigued to see both her work and the fresh crop of actors about to be loosed into the Toronto theatre scene.
Ryerson’s Abrams Studio (46 Gerrard St E) can be a little hard to find, so if you’re heading there be sure you know it’s on the north side of Gerrard in the Ryerson Theatre School academic building, second floor (across the street from the large Ryerson theatre.)
Before the play even started I was impressed with the simple and elegant set. Wooden cross beams at odd angles allow the audience to see into a hallway running along the back of the stage. Large wooden crates provide levels and surfaces used to make different scenes within the play but which also evoke the feeling of a warehouse, the setting of the main action. A corner draped with coloured scarves is an exotic portal where mythical elements of the play enter and exit.
And there are a lot of mythical elements: the play centres around the Lacuna Cabal Young Women’s Book Club who are convinced by one of their members, Runner, to take on the Epic of Gilgamesh as their next project. This is not a paperback, however; it is the original Epic, carved into stone tablets.
Since only Runner is able to read the ancient script, the group “reads” the story by acting it out at Runner’s direction. This leads them into strange territory: they accept men into their group, they have sexual power plays and physical battles, and they go on a journey down the St Lawrence.
The staging made great use of the space and the cast, although the Abrams theatre is a bit too wide. I was sitting in the in second row and when there was action on both ends of the stage I had to turn my head back and forth as if I was at a tennis match.
The cast was very strong and obviously had that deep rapport that comes with the enormous amount of time spent together during four years of theatre school. They played off each other very well – and very quickly. At times during the first act I wished they’d slow down a bit: the dialogue was rapid-fire, when not overlapping. By the second act I was glad they hadn’t wasted any time during the beginning as the play is very long.
Be prepared for this before you go in, as most audiences expect contemporary theatre to be 90 minutes with no intermission, or perhaps 2 hours with intermission. The Girls Who Saw Everything was 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, which is an awfully long haul if you’re not expecting it.
Before I saw the piece I knew vaguely it was both a novel and a play. During the first act it seemed to me that this must be a novel adapted for the stage, perhaps even particularly for theatre school, which has the particular requirement of large, mostly-female casts. However, upon reading the programme during intermission I found it was a play first and is now a “critically-acclaimed” novel.
I am definitely adding the novel to my “To Read” list, as I expect it will work much better as longer literary work. The play is all over the place. I didn’t understand the significance of a lot of things, from Runner’s tendency to enter the action by falling from the sky, to the inexplicably cross-dressed character Aline who puts on men’s clothing again halfway through the second act.
There are layers and layers of references to literature and history and contemporary culture, but they’re mish-mashed together in the script so frenetically that there’s little context. I have a very strong feeling that a novel is a more suitable medium for this highly conceptual story.
I congratulate the graduating class of Ryerson theatre school – and Ruth Madoc-Jones – for good work done with a very challenging script.
– The Girls Who Saw Everything is playing until November 12at the Ryerson Abrams Studio, 46 Gerrard Street East, second floor
– It is running in repertoire so remaining shows are November 4, 6, 10 and 12 at 8 pm
– Tickets are $18, $14 for Students/Seniors and $12 for a group of 8 or more
– Tickets can be purchased by phone at 416-979-5118 or at the theatre –the box office opens 90 minutes before a show