Review: Century Song (Nightwood Theatre)

Neema Bickersteth in Nightwood Theatre's Century SongCentury Song is a massive collaborative work, now gracing the Toronto stage

Nightwood Theatre‘s Century Song, a collaborative production with Volcano, Richard Jordan Productions UK, Moveable Beast Collective and Crow’s Theatre, is a one-woman multimedia piece that heavily features opera and projection design. With a distinctly non-narrative form, there is a huge amount of beautiful work to be found in its 50 minute runtime.

Century Song is meant to be a ephemeral journey through both Canadian History and the history of the protagonist herself, played by Neema Bickersteth. This journey is more implied than shown, and while the transcendent qualities definitely give the show its distinctiveness, I will say that at times it felt like the audience was being left behind on the journey. While I was never uninterested, I did often find that there were moments I didn’t understand.

Neema Bickersteth, who comes from an extensive opera background, has a stunning vocal presence. The show’s form allowed her to showcase a lot of variations in her vocal talent, and it was a pleasure to witness both her playful and more intense shades. The most stunning of these was the most simple and still when–towards the end of the piece–we see only her, a microphone and a soft spotlight. She needs little else to pull the audience in–and wow has she got some stamina.

Her supports off to the side were my personal favourite element of the show: Gregory Oh and Ben Grossman who are credited as Piano and Percussion/Computer respectively. Their music and drumming definitely brought the piece to life and created a landscape through which Bickersteth could travel. They even got to show off their humorous side in a segment where it was just them and a projected animation of everyday life turned protest, which was both funny and in the end very powerful.

Speaking of the projections (by fettfilms and Germany Hinrichs), they were stunning. With incredible precision and subtlety they brought the audience into forests, city streets, and darkened rooms by the light of a single window. There was a good mix of projections that drew focus and ones supported the focus on Bickersteth by creating ambiance, which is not an easy balance to find.

Maybe from reading thus far it has been easy to gather, but Nightwood‘s Century Song is a gigantic collaborative piece. With Bickersteth as one of three co-creators, along with Kate Alton (also Choreographer) and Ross Manson (also Director), along with collaborations for the music, projections, sets and costumes, a lot of artists work went into the production. For that alone, it is an incredible piece to witness. It’s not often in Toronto theatre that we get to see collaborations of this nature and magnitude.

And while the individual elements at times don’t always seem to make up a whole, potentially leaving the audience a bit lost at times, they are enough in and of themselves to hold an audience’s attention. With so much beautiful work in one show, it is certainly worth a look.

Details: 

  • Century Song is playing at the Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw Ave) until April 29th
  • Shows are at 8pm, with the exception of April 25th (1:30pm), April 28th (7:30pm) and April 29th (2pm)
  • Tickets can be bought online here or at the Street Car Crowsnest two hours before the show begins. 
  • Tickets are $35