Review: Cavalcade (George Brown Theatre)

Jake Runeckles, Lucas Penner and Michael Boyce in CavalcadeGeorge Brown Theatre presents a cast of up and coming talent in Cavalcade playing in Toronto

George Brown Theatre’s production of Noel Coward’s Cavalcade, playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, is a big play. It covers the big events in English life from New Year’s Eve 1899 to New Year’s Eve 1929 including the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War l. This production has a cast of 23. That’s a really nice thing about a School of Performing Arts – you have a big talent pool to draw from and you can produce plays with large casts.

The play follows two families, the well-off Marryots and their servants, the Bridges, and their loss of innocence as they live through the turbulence and technological changes of the early 20th Century. It made me think of Upstairs Downstairs.

It wasn’t until the second half of the second act that I felt any kind of emotional connection to the play. This was a function of the script rather than of the production. With so many scenes it felt like a series of sketches rather than a story. At intermission I found myself wishing for some character development and/or a plot.

There is a lot of talent on stage which bodes well for the future of Canadian theatre. The stand-out performance for me was Lillian Scriven as Jane Marryot who combined the stiff upper lip approach to life of an upper class Englishwoman with the emotional responses of a mother in a completely believable way.

Directed by James Simon, with set and costumes by Brandon Kleiman, musical direction by J. Rigzin Tute, and lighting by Siobhan Sleath, the production works well. The set is bare for most scenes with a few pieces of furniture brought in for a some of the scenes by the cast.

I really liked the music during each scene change; sometimes it was the entire cast singing as they moved across the stage placing or removing the furniture. There’s a lot of music in the play. There’s a lovely all singing all dancing play within the play, Mirabelle, as well as a lively sea-side performance by Jake Runeckles, Lucas Penner, and Michael Boyce featuring an accordion, a ukulele, a triangle, and some terrific tap-dancing by Runeckles. Penner and Runeckles are both Assistant Musical Directors and Runeckles is also the Accompanist.

Kleiman’s costumes were terrific. The ball gowns were particularly beautiful. So much work to make. Sometimes it’s a treat to see elaborate costumes. They’re so labour intensive and expensive that, other than really big theatre companies, no one can afford to do them any more. Sometimes I miss it.

There are 22 scenes in the production. I know that I don’t remember all of them. The one that has stayed with me is a scene depicting WWI. No props, no dialogue, but an evocation of war that was effective and disturbing.

Cavalcade is a play of its time. I can imagine the initial production with hundreds of extras, a huge stage, an orchestra, and sumptuous costumes. Audiences would have related to the depiction of patriotism and the changes they had been through in 30 years. It would have felt immediately relevant. I doubt that it’s produced very often.

George Brown Theatre’s spare, scaled back production worked surprising well. Even though I didn’t really engage until the last third of the play I enjoyed it.

Details:

  • Cavalcade is playing until November 19, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tankhouse Lane)
  • Shows run Tuesday through Saturday 7:30 pm, Sat 1:30 pm
  • Tickets range from $8 to $20
  • Tickets are available by phone at 416-866-8666 or in person at the box office

Photo of Jake Runeckles, Lucas Penner, and Michael Boyce by Andrew Oxenham

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