Review: The Penelopiad raises the bar for Saskatoon theatre
The all-woman cast of Ferre Play Theatre's production put on a spellbinding performance in what might be the best show of the year.
Let’s not mince words: The Penelopiad might be the best show to grace any stage in Saskatoon this year.
The 13-woman cast of Ferre Play Theatre’s Tuesday night production of The Penelopiad at the Backstage Stage was stellar from top to bottom.
The play, based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, tells the story of The Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, in a role reversal that should leave audience members questioning their place in the world.
Caitlin Vancoughnett was spellbinding as the titular Penelope, but her weaving in and out of scenes with her maids — the rest of the cast — made the show even more powerful. It’s tough to name who stood out as a performer because everyone took turns standing out in funny, dramatic, and heart-wrenching turn throughout the show.
We need to appreciate for a moment the absolute brilliance of director Yvette Nolan and the design team’s decisions in bringing this show together. The set design of three rock-like platforms and dozens, if not hundreds, of long, dangling ribbons and ropes gave the performers a simple but dynamic stage to work within. Is it Odysseus’s bedroom? The depths of Hades? The changes of settings within the set were beautifully smooth.
That dynamism makes the show work. The movement feels constant, whether high-speed or slowly halting, accentuated by the ever-shifting dangling threads of the set. Every action felt organic but carefully planned, an economy of motion so cleverly organized there was little doubt what was happening, even in the most abstract of tableaus.
Without spoiling too much, the illusion of a giant weaving loom and a powerful death scene later in the show stood out among the rest.
The music — lyrics provided by Atwood, music provided by the production’s sound designer and composer, Amanda Trapp — was equal parts beautiful and haunting at any given moment. This is a prime example of a true ensemble show: everything meshed together so brilliantly that nothing felt out of place.
It has to be noted that this is the first production by the new, all-woman theatre company Ferre Play. It’s not a gimmick, it’s not trite, and it’s not a passing fancy: they’ve proven that this group has powerful potential — and that Saskatoon and Saskatchewan’s women in theatre are absurdly talented.
Go see The Penelopiad — if not because it’s a great all-female production, then because it’s a magnificently constructed piece of theatre at every conceivable level.
This was not a showing of “we can be just as good as men in theatre.” This was a statement of “if you won’t give us the opportunities, we will make them for ourselves — and blow the rest of you out of the water.”
No men? No problem.
The Penelopiad runs until Sept. 22 at Persephone Theatre’s Backstage Stage.