Helen Lawrence

Theatre and cinema overlap in Chris Haddock and Stan Douglas' film noir-inspired production

A co-production with Canadian Stage, Arts Club Theatre Company, Vancouver, The Banff Centre, Stan Douglas Inc and Canada's National Arts Centre
Conceived by Stan Douglas
Story by Chris Haddock and Stan Douglas
Written by Chris Haddock
Directed by Stan Douglas

Adam Kenneth Wilson and Haley McGee in Helen Lawrence. Photo by David Cooper.

After premiering in Vancouver in March, and touring Europe with stops in Munich and Edinburgh this past summer, Helen Lawrence has finally landed on stage in Toronto at the Bluma Appel Theatre. Created by visual artist Stan Douglas in collaboration with screenwriter Chris Haddock (Da Vinci's Inquest), this cutting edge production combines theatre, visual art, live-action filming and computer-generated simulations to tell a suspenseful story of revenge set in post-war Vancouver.

The year is 1948, and the city is under the power of a corrupt police force, led by Chief James Muldoon (Ryan Hollyman), and his drunken right hand man, Inspector Leonard Perkins (Greg Ellwand). These shady officers allow a number of criminalsincluding bookie Percy Walker (Nicholas Lea), derelict hotel owner Harry Mitchell (Hrothgar Mattews), and black boxer Buddy Black (Allan Louis), who runs a beer garden in Hogan's alleyto operate freely in exchange for ongoing payments.

Their world order is shaken, however, when a brassy blonde femme fatale, Helen Lawrence (Lisa Ryder), arrives from L.A. with a plan to get even with the double-crossing Percy Walker. She immediately sets upon tracking him down with the help of crafty hotel caretaker Julie, or "Joe," Winters (played by the ever humourous Haley McGee). Meanwhile, those in power struggle to keep control of a community in flux.

The production features a blue-screen enclosed stage on which the play is performed, that allows for the actors' images to be shown alongside 3D historical buildings that are recreations from Vancouver's skyline in 1948. Filmed and live images of the actors are projected into detailed virtual spaces with the story unfolding simultaneously as both a film and a play. The result is a truly remarkable viewing experience, elevated by entertaining performances and a climactic score by composer John Gzowski.

The problem with Helen Lawrence lies with the story itself. Structurally the show can be difficult to follow, with too many characters and intersecting plots. Characters such as the lovelorn prostitute Rose (Emily Piggford), shellshocked gambler Edward Banks (Adam Kenneth Wilson) and his distraught wife Eva Banks (Ava Jane Markus), while brilliantly performed, have little relevance to the main narrative. The subplot involving Buddy Black, his lover Mary Jackson (Crystal Balint) and his estranged war vet brother Henry Williams (a terrific Sterling Jarvis), however, is compelling and emotionally charged.

Audiences will marvel at this innovative pairing of live performance and media technology. The style and attitude of the genre is spot on, and the visuals are simply mesmerizing.

Helen Lawrence runs until November 2 at the Bluma Appel Theatre. Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sun, 2014-10-12 - Sun, 2014-11-02
Our rating:


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