Review: The Real World? (Tarragon Theatre)

The Real World? brilliantly captures a dysfunctional family at the Tarragon Theatre

This is by far one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in years. Tarragon Theatre’s recent production of renowned French-Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay’s The Real World? is an example of outstanding theatre.

Phenomenal acting coupled with an intriguing script and intelligent staging make The Real World? intensely raw and unforgettable.

This story is far too common. A dysfunctional family, riddled with abuse, guilt, fear, shame, and resentment.

When aspiring playwright Claude writes a play about his family and shares it with his mother Madeleine, she is outraged and their world begins to unravel.

The story is a play within a play, in which two worlds collide. The narrative, intricately dissected by Claude, represents his perceived reality. Matthew Edison is cast perfectly as the sensitive and intellectual Claude.

The “real” Madeleine, played by Jane Spidell is proud, stoic, unattached and reluctant to face the harsh reality that Claude yearns for her to see. The second Madeleine, played by Meg Tilly, is emotional, crippled with pain and ready to break free. Both Spindell and Tilly are outstanding in their portrayals.

Director Richard Rose successfully interprets this complicated play with such precision and insight, the intersection of characters acting simultaneously is seamless and flawless.

Set and costume designer Charlotte Dean brilliantly captures the 1960s era of a middle class family. She vividly creates each character with accuracy and detail through specific and heightened costume choices. The picture perfect home set in a proscenium stage with Claude occasionally wandering in and out of it added to our own presence as a fly on the wall.

As the household collapsed, so did the outside world. The thunderous lightning storm created by lighting designer Kevin Fraser and sound designer Emily Porter added to the overall highly emotional atmosphere, making it ever more convincing. It was just as unnerving as the revelation of Claude and Mariette’s troubled childhood.

Sophie Goulet, as the washed up go-go dancer and sister Mariette, was a standout. She embodied every inch of the character from her mannerisms, vocal tone, down to her gum chewing. She was tough, yet vulnerable, deprived of true affection.

Both Tony Nappo and Cliff Saunders in the role of Alex, Claude’s sleazy, sexist and absent father give tour de force performances.

Within minutes of leaving the theatre, my guest and I were messaging our friends to come and see this show. Intensely powerful and moving, be prepared to be transformed. This is just as much a commentary on family relations as it is about theatre. Vulnerable, honest and ferociously real,The Real World? personifies the power of theatre and delivers at every level.


The Real World? is playing at Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto, ON.) from April 24-June 3rd, Wednesdays through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. Saturday matinees also take place at 2:30pm on May 12th and May 19th

-Tickets may be purchased by calling the Tarragon Box office at 416-531-1827 or by visiting

-Tickets range from $39-$51. Senior and student prices also available. Rush tickets are available for $12.00 at the door for Friday night performances (on sale at 6pm) and Sunday matinees performances (on sale at 1:00pm) for all shows of the 2011/12 season.

Photograph of Jane Spidell, Meg Tilly, Matthew Edison and Cliff Saunders by Cylla von Tiedemann