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Small space, big show

Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
05/24/2012 -  & May 25, 26, 27, 2012
Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw
Miriam Khalil (The Governess), Megan Latham (Mrs. Grose), Sebastian Gayowsky (Miles), Johane Ansell (Flora), Michael Barrett (Peter Quint/Prologue), Betty Waynne Allison (Miss Jessel)
Christopher Mokrzewski (Music Director/Pianist)
Joel Ivany (Director), Camellia Koo (Set Designer), Erika Connor (Costume Designer), Jason Hand (Lighting Designer)

M. Khalil (© Darryl Block)

This production is a prime example of what can be done with the ample talents of the Against the Grain Theatre company (both musical and dramatic) combined with slender financial means.

The venue is a small theatre in what seems like (and is, actually) an attic space in an old building at the University of Toronto. Its claustrophobic feeling makes it ideal for any work involving ghosts. In this production the spooky lighting renders the silent audience as spectral onlookers.

The narrow playing area running the full length of the space is flanked on each side by just three rows of seats - 100 or so spectators in all. The performers ignore the audience (who are seated within reach after all) and simply focus on one another. The impact of small gestures, such as eye contact, is magnified - the two “villains”, Michael Barrett and Betty Allison, are especially effective in this respect.

Miriam Khalil, who made a wonderful impression in her earlier appearance with AtG as Mimi in La Bohème, once again demonstrates her glowing voice in a well-focused performance.

While the space is small, vocal performances are full-scale. Each of the singers is capable of performing these roles in a regular, larger-scale venue, so sonically - and thus dramatically - the performance achieves maximum intensity.

Once again Christopher Mokrzewski manages to replicate an orchestra’s worth of support with “only” his piano.

Upcoming: Miriam Khalil will be one of several singers familiar to Toronto audiences who will be participating in the Montreal International Musical Competition (May 28 - June 8). Against the Grain’s founder and director Joel Ivany will be taking on a major work, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, for Edmonton Opera this coming season. Let’s hope this doesn’t take him away from AtG for too long.

Michael Johnson



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