Radical (Gruff Pyg) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review


Have you heard of Dr. Vera Peters? No? Neither had I until I chose this particular Toronto Fringe Festival entry. Radical (presented by Gruff Pyg) is a dramatized account of a remarkable Canadian oncologist, Dr. Peters, and her fight to offer women a choice when it came to how their bodies were treated for breast cancer. I should have heard of her, and you should have too. That’s why you ought to see this play. 

Written by practicing oncologist and playright, Charles Hayter, this drama is set in Princess Margaret Hospital in 1972. Dr. Peters, challenged by an assertive patient who refused to be disfigured by a radical mastectomy, sets out on a mission to prove that less extreme surgery is a viable option.

The play is an examination of the sexism and repressive arrogance lurking within the medical profession. In his script, Hayter has illustrated that her fight was not just for women’s right to be offered a choice in how their bodies will be treated, it was about allowing respect and dignity into the doctor/patient relationship and highlighting the need for ongoing progress.

The dialogue has an old school charm. It reminded me of a 1950s Katharine Hepburn film. And lead actress Jane Smythe has some of that headstrong Hepburn spirit. Much of Edgar Chua’s direction has a similar throwback quality. The performances are somewhat stylized. There are a few stiff moments, but it hardly matters. There is passion and intensity in this solid drama.

It did occur to me that the Tarragon Mainspace is a little large for this particular production. Some of the staging seems a little big for the content and context. But that’s unavoidable when you need to fill ample stage area with only a few actors and no major set pieces.

I found myself quite moved by the final scenes. The emotion blindsided me because, while I found myself enjoying it, I didn’t realize how invested I had become. Isn’t that a hallmark of really great storytelling?

While I am loath to use such a phrase, this is a play you should see. Why? Because it’s a good story, well told. Because it’s a piece of Canadian history you may not know, but should. Because it’s good theatre.


Radical plays at the Tarragon Main (30 Bridgman Ave, near Bathurst and Dupont).

Show times
July 04 at 10:30 PM
July 05 at 09:15 PM
July 06 at 07:00 PM
July 09 at 02:15 PM
July 11 at 03:30 PM
July 12 at 08:00 PM
July 13 at 01:45 PM

Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.

To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Photo of Sheila Russell and Jane Smythe by Sydney Helland

3 thoughts on “Radical (Gruff Pyg) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review”

  1. I liked your straight forward review on this and I agree, though I had heard of Dr. Peters and greatly respect her! Her position then is just now STARTING to go main stream. It is very good that a tribute play has been written about her!

  2. This review is far too generous. Yes, Dr. Peters’ story is worth knowing, but she deserves better than this play. The script was clumsy and lacked any subtlety, and the overacting was painful. I’ve never seen so many audience members walk out during a Fringe play before. Save your time and money – I wish I had.

  3. RADICAL is a story that will resonate with many people. The journey Vera and indeed all of the characters walked professionally and personally are still part of our daily experience. Many may find the story too close for comfort.

    Each performance has improved in acting and in staging. The cast seems to be increasingly comfortable with the stage and the Fringe Festival requirements that truncates the play to a 1 hour version.

    I have heard many who lived during that era as wanting to go on stage to talk again to Vera, a nod to the honest believable performance of Jayne Smythe. Hayter’s script highlights the tension of the issues and the era and the cast drives this home.

    Audience members are noted to be red eyed on exit and some report being moved to tears on reflection later … while driving home. This is a testimony, I feel, to the heartfelt “all in” performances of the cast and the enduring potential of this play. We’ll done!

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