Sofia Tomic, Shannon Mercer and Laura Condlln in "Come and Go," part of Beckett: Feck It! on to Feb. 25 at the Berkeley Street Theatre (John Lauener photo).

Queen of Puddings Music Theatre has, in its first co-production with Canadian Stage, taken a new turn in its 17-year history of experimenting in and around the stage.

In Beckett: Feck it!, which runs at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs until Feb. 25, Queen of Puddings has interwoven absurdly pointed observations on people’s timeless foibles by Irish-born playwright and poet Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) with music for voice and trumpet.

The combined effect, masterfully acted and effectively staged, uses the strange interplay of the comfortably familiar with the srikingly unexpected to create an engrossing, 75-minute show. Laughter mixes with pain, and darkness with light, reflecting in tidy little packages the borderless mess that is the human condition.

The music comes courtesy of rock-steady Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra principal trumpet Michael Fedyshyn, fearless Toronto-based classical soprano Shannon Mercer and three made-in-Ireland pieces: Trumpeter, by veteran composer Gerald Barry, Drei Gesänge (Three Songs) by Andew Hamilton and a 16th century a cappella ballad, Eleanór a Rún, by Cearbhall O Dálaigh.

Both contemporary pieces rely on familiar melodies and note patterns, arranged in unpredictable ways, especially in Hamilton’s Drei Gesänge, which sound like Schubert Lieder afflicted by Tourette’s Syndrome.

The pieces are woven between four short plays by Beckett: Act Without Words II, Come and Go, Play, (all from the late 1950s and early ’60s) and Ohio Impromptu (from 1980). Director Jennifer Tarver has followed the playwright’s staging suggestions, which remove all easily recognizable context as two or three characters walk an invisible tighrope stretched taut between meaning and meaninglessness.

The plays are acted out by Tom Rooney, Michael Grzejszczak, Laura Condlln and Sofia Tomic, with a spoken cameo by Mercer in Come and Go.

All of the performances are tight and energetic. Tarver and Queen of Puddings co-artistic directors Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess have pulled together a seamless show from a number of disparate elements, while designer Teresa Przybylski and lighting master Kimberly Purtell achieve maximum effect with a minimum of fuss.

Even though these plays have been around for several decades, they can still surprise as they turn a mirror at their audience — this time with a compelling soundtrack.

For show details and ticket information, click here.

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This is Eleanór a Rún, sung by Róisín El Safty:

John Terauds

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12 Responses to Review: Beckett: Feck it! an absurdly effective way of blending theatre and music

  1. I saw this monstrosity at Berkeley last night, and if it weren’t for courtesy, and propriety I would have left about 20 minutes in. The opening act was mildly funny, but probably went on a bit longer than it needed to. Another act (let’s call it Adultery, since I do not know the name) actually repeated itself, which is a first for me in 30 years of attending live theatre. The singing was very close to enough to make you puncture your own ear drums, and again, it was painfully repetitive. My wife and I are season subscribers for Canstage, so we see all the shows. We know enough about theatre to know that all too often art is pretentious simply to remind you if you understood it, it would not be “artsy” enough. I don’t intend to scare anyone away from seeing this show, but am providing a word of caution, this is 70 minutes you will NOT be getting back.

  2. Zoe says:

    I haven’t seen the show, but regarding the previous comment – let’s face it, it’s BECKETT. Meaning that one should realise what one’s in for. It has little to do with how it’s staged, but rather with Beckett’s art itself – it’s hermetic and ”artsy” and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Like Pinter’s or Joyce’s. I suppose one needs to enjoy Beckett’s plays in the first place in order to give this (or any other production of his works) a try.

    • Zoe, I wish someone had told me that the prerequisite for this “production” was knowing of Beckett, or having experienced him before. As previously stated, we are season subscribers. We love the surprise of not knowing what we’re in for when we attend the theatre. I will deliberately not even research the shows prior to attending, for that very reason. Consequently, there are times when we end up with a situation like last night. I still can’t see how anyone could have thought this was good theatre, by any measure. To each his own I suppose.

  3. Gregory Oh says:

    @football guy – courtesy and propriety are code words for timidity and spinelessness. grab a backbone and walk out already. it makes for better theatre, and a better theatre. did you also “politely” applaud, just to blend in with the crowd?

    it’s why standing ovations are like chocolates on valentine’s day – they’ve been cheapened to the point where they don’t mean nothin no more. stop the devaluation of audience feedback!

    so lame.

    • Gregory, while I agree with your general sentiment I do not agree with distracting the actors by leaving in the middle of the performance, it’s simply something I would never do. That said, even though we were front row centre, I did not applaud at all. I typically don’t do anything to “blend in”. I did not enjoy it (to say the least) so I did not want to make anyone mistakenly think that I had. THAT would have been wrong.

      • Gregory Oh says:

        Fair enough. Undeserved remarks withdrawn. I do feel like we need some good honest boos in this town. I should also add that I’m n

  4. Sniezhynka says:

    This was the worst hour of my life. It’s a fortune in disguise that Beckett himself is not alive to witness what this production has done to his work.

  5. AHA!!!!! So my wife and I weren’t the only ones! I wonder how many others thought it was this painful but would never think of commenting online.

  6. Zoe says:

    @ footbalguy: I didn’t mean to question your taste or anything. It’s quite possible that this production is actually as dire as you and Sniezhynka claim. I just had the impression you were complaining about the material itself, hence my comment.
    I also agree with you that leaving a show before it ends or booing it is not everyone’s style – I have never been able to do it myself either, and I consider it perfectly legitimate to later give your impressions on a show to friends, or even better, write your comments online. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of audience feedback. The only dangerous thing is pretending to like something one didn’t like out of the fear of coming across as being intellectually inferior to others who also pretend they have liked it. That is exactly what has happened to the the theatre life in my city (I am not from Canada), but the impression I’ve got of Toronto during my visits is that it is a city fortunate to have a very rich and diverse theatre life and audiences who can’t be fooled.
    As for this particular show – the Queen of Puddings is a highly experimental group. All their productions I have seen were quite risky and were either big hits or big misses, and this one sounds like a miss. Oh well, it happens, at least you gave it a try and it lasted only 70 minutes. Beats staying at home watching some reality show. :)

  7. Zoe, your post gave me a smile. I promise I did not take any offense from your previous post, I understand that everyone has their opinions and preferences, and I just like to get as much input as I can about anything from anyone. I have thought about what Greg said about walking out and like you, I don’t think I could ever do it, but he makes a very very good point in that we have a responsibility to ourselves, and those in theatre to let them know when we think something is substandard, which I certainly did. I choose to do this online, and Greg may do so by leaving in mid performance. The benefit of that kind of feedback is that it tells the performers and everyone involved that the show was not well received. If enough people do it, the message is sure to get across. Your point about the length is well made. We were out if there early enough to get to the Home Depot to pick up some things I had needed to get for over a week. MUCH better than staying home for that awful reality TV!

  8. Also………. Greg, it appears your last message was truncated or cut off. I’m interested in your thoughts, could you re-post? Thanks!

  9. [...] It! which stretched the boundaries of what we think of as theatre and music back in February. In my review, to which I have nothing to add, I wrote, “Laughter mixes with pain, and darkness with light, [...]