Parlour Song: Details Make the Difference

You expect great acting when you go to Fringe Festival plays. Or, more specifically, you expect to experience a great story brought to life by great actors. We’re lucky in Edmonton in that our expectations are generally met. Wishbone theatre‘s take on Parlour Song, which ran August 17 – 25, did not disappoint.

Parlour Song is a creepy/funny/sad telling of a stagnant life in middle class suburban England. The tone of the play is perhaps best set by Elinza Pretorius playing the Stepford Wife-ish Joy. Her stoicism while watching her husband Ned (Dave Clarke) descend into a mental breakdown was absolutely heartbreaking.

However, what really raised Parlour Song to the next level was the technical elements. Since Trent Wilkie’s Book on TapeI’ve been wanting theatre companies to use more multimedia in their productions. Parlour Song delivered in a big way. Looming above the stage is a white abstract grouping of blocks which various images and words are projected on throughout the play. This was perhaps the element that most influenced the creepy feeling I left the theatre with. The stage directions were projected on the blocks for the audience to read. Words like “silence,” “beat,” and “he watches her leave,” were projected on the blocks as the actors performed those actions. So, not only were the actors portraying a society where everything seems staged and pre-determined, this was reflected in the construction of the performance itself. If you haven’t actually seen the performance, it may be hard to imagine. Being allowed to see what the actors were supposed to be doing just reinforced the fact that it was a play – that it had been done 5 times before, and might be done hundreds of times again. Just like the lives of the characters the actors were portraying.

The multimedia was also used to make the play more elaborate than the sparse set it was staged on. Dinnertime, but no table? No problem – just show a picture of a scrumptious-looking duck. Want to make preparing lemonade the creepiest thing since the shower scene in Psycho? Show an art-house type film of slicing lemons and stirring lemonade that eventually becomes filled with blood. One of my favorite uses of the multimedia  was when Dale (Michael Peng) and Joy were playing scrabble and Dale tosses the board in the air. The real board had no pieces on it, but scrabble pieces frozen in the air were portrayed on the screen above Dale’s head. The image was stunning. (And, no mess to clean up afterwards!)

While the effect of the multimedia blew me away, I need to give a quick mention to the excellent lighting and sound design. As I mentioned before, the set was fairly sparse, but the way light was used separated the stage into various areas which, emphasized the character’s isolation when the characters were in the spotlight. Meanwhile, the back of the stage was cordoned off with a blue light that made the actors appear ghost-like. While light was used liberally in the production, I only counted music being used three times in the play. In fact, the room was even silent as the audience filed into the venue – typically music is used to create a mood before the production begins. However, when sound was used, it was incredibly powerful.For example, the metal music used when Ned was working out was shocking in its ferocity (especially when contrasted with the silence of the rest of the play) and reinforced his gutteral scream.

Parlour Song reinforced the reasons why I believe in Edmonton’s theatre companies. Even though the right actors for the roles were in place, wishbone theatre took the performance a step further by using the production elements to enhance the scenes the actors were portraying, taking Parlour Song to a new level of theatre performance.

– Jenna Marynowski

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