Review: Bloody Family (The Theatre Centre/Philip McKee + Tanja Jacobs)


The Theatre Centre presents updated Greek mythology-inspired play Bloody Family in Toronto

War destroys families. And people who haven’t lived through the horrors of war can’t hope to understand the true pain of that. That was my main takeaway from The Theatre Centre’s production of Bloody Family, a modern take on the ancient Greek trilogy, The Orestia.

The Orestia, in a nutshell, tells the story of a family’s destruction by war, as father sacrifices daughter in war, mother murders father in grief, and son eventually kills mother in the name of justice. In Bloody Family, we watch as a director, Philip (the real-life name of co-producer and creator Philip McKee – more on that later) interviews Clytemnestra – the mother in The Orestia. Philip wants her advice on his upcoming stage production of her story.

It’s through the exchanges between Philip and Clytemnestra (played with great power and emotion by Tanja Jacobs) that we witness much of the “meat” of the show, to my mind, as we get to better understand the clarity with which she views her family’s tragedy.

Philip, with the cold distance of an academic director, poses a number of complicated theories to Clytemnestra about why her husband might have sacrificed their daughter, or why she might have killed him in return – and Clytemnestra cuts through them with her own harsh truths. The conversations also cause her to vividly re-live her long-repressed memories of her exchanges with her daughter Iphigenia (played by Norah Sadava) and her son Orestes (played by Ishan Davé).

My friend and I laughed a great deal – both at Philip and Clytemnestra’s exchanges, but also at the loaded mother/son exchanges between Clytemnestra and Orestres (e.g. “I’m here to kill you – but I have to stay with you for a few days.”).

For those of us in the audience with a theatrical background, the absurd lengths to which Philip goes to extract a performance from his actors also rang hilariously true. I also have to commend Ken Mackenzie for his very striking use of lighting design in the creation of the story.

Our biggest quibble – and this is obviously by design, rather than neglect on the production’s part – was the decision to have the actors perform under their own names. Without giving anything away, a number of… morally questionable… acts occur in the in-show creation of The Orestia, and we couldn’t figure out why the creators would want their fictional selves’ acts to be linked to their real selves’ names.

Other than that, however, Bloody Family was an engaging theatrical experience. It made us laugh, while inspiring a great deal of thought on the nature of war, family and justice. It critiqued the way in which painful truths can be clouded by our own needs to understand and interpret. If you’re a fan of Greek tragedy, reinterpretation and modernization of old texts, this just might be the show for you.


  • Bloody Family is playing from September 26 – October 5, 2014 at the The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $20 – $30
  • Tickets are available online at or by phone at 416-538-0988. For more information visit

Photo of Ishan Davé and Tanja Jacobs taken by Alejandro Santiago