Review: Talking Treaties (Jumblies Theatre)

Talking Treaties is active and immersive theatre performed at the historical Fort York in Toronto

Image from Jumblies Theatre's Talking Treaties showTalking Treaties calls itself a spectacle and really, it is. Jumblies Theatre is performing the show at Fort York National Historic Site as part of Toronto’s 2017 Indigenous Arts Festival. The show explores Toronto’s Indigenous history and unfolds the origin stories and after effects of three significant treaties.

To endeavour to tell such a vast history onstage could have been overly ambitious, but Talking Treaties delivers. With spirited ensemble performances, the show gives an illuminating presence and voice to the Indigenous peoples that came before us. They drum, they dance, they shout, they sing. And as my fellow show-goer reflected, they inspire.

The show takes place both indoors and outdoors on the expansive Fort York grounds. It features a cast of impassioned actors, free form dancers and live musicians, all of whom pilgrim across the grounds as the show progresses.

Instead of performing an uninterrupted, fixed narrative on stage, Talking Treaties seeks active audience engagement; only through communal movement can the story move forward. This energy feels vital, given the heart of the performance, that implores us to remember, to share, to question, to seek. This is not a show to simply see, this is a show to experience with others.

With the performance spread across much of Fort York, the crafty set design and magical — many larger than life — props create a cohesive world. This allowed me to stay immersed in the production while I was walking between scenes (and sometimes hearing GO Trains rocket by, although c’est la vie at Fort York). As a delightful bonus, the show features two giant puppets, a beaver and a king, who chaperon much of the walking.

I found great beauty in the shifting forms the narrative took. In one scene, dancers move with a beautiful freedom as voices of previously recorded interviews fill the space. The coming together of the movement and layered voices feels ethereal, intimate and affecting. In another scene, prominent Mohawk Molly Brant (played by Jill Carter) and British Superintendent of the Northern Indians Sir William Johnson (played by Jesse Wabegijig) deliver a tightly staged performance with fast, smart, and comedic dialogue. Talking Treaties offers freedom and structure ad infinitum.

I’m calling this show an educational riot. The script is well written, and does a great job transcribing a complicated history and making it easily accessible and interactive. This is a show for all ages, and one all Torontonians can learn from.

Details

    • Talking Treaties is playing as part of Toronto’s 2017 Indigenous Arts Festival at Fort York National Historic Site (250 Fort York Boulevard).
    • The site can be accessed through the gate on the west side of Bathurst, north of Fort York Boulevard.
    • Shows run on June 23 2017 at 6:30pm and June 25 2017 at 5:00pm, Talking Treaties Installation only: June 24 2017 from 12:00 to 5:00pm.
    • Tickets are PWYC and available on site, although advanced reservations are recommended by emailing info@jumbliestheatre.org.
    • This performance takes place indoors and outdoors and requires walking and periods of standing.
    • This performance is conducted in wheelchair-accessible spaces.

Photo provided by the company.

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