Lela & Co. - Theatre Review

Lela & Co. - Theatre Review

Some months ago, I saw a play that will remain nameless. It dealt with profound, emotional subject matter – sexual slavery during wartime. It was intense and graphic and disturbing. The writing was uneven, flowery and artificial in some parts and exposition-heavy in others. The directorial treatment wavered between mawkish symbolism and misery porn, lavishing attention on women's tortured bodies. And this story, meant to be about women, somehow managed to give more time to the voices of men – the women's abusers and loved ones. It was a disappointing evening. Maybe it just can't be done, I thought to myself. Maybe this kind of story is so powerful, so disturbing, that it just can't be made into good theatre.

Lela & Co., now playing at the Theatre Centre, proved me wrong. 

The subject matter is the same; Lela & Co. is a play about sex trafficking. It tells a harrowing story and it doesn't sugarcoat the realities of war. But it is so much more than that. It's the story of Lela, her childhood, her struggle, her resistance and resilience. It's a story of war, those who suffer, those who profit, and those who try to help. It's a production that educates, yes, but never at the expense of character. Most of all, it proves that in the hands of skilled writers, performers, and crew, even a story as painful as this one can be a thing of beauty. 

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Strictly Ballroom The Musical - Theatre Review

Strictly Ballroom The Musical - Theatre Review

Baz Luhrmann is one of those directors whose aesthetic is immediately recognizable – and not to everyone's taste. Personally, I love the technicolour glossiness of a Luhrmann film. I love the staginess taken to extravagant lengths, the lush visuals and golden light, the swooning romance and sneering villians. Clothes are never just clothes, but costumes. Places have a feeling of unreality about them. In Luhrmann's world, everything is fake, but that doesn't mean it's not true. He makes movies where we know everything is artificial. Everything has been designed, chosen with care, for the single purpose of showing us an emotional truth. In other words, the more unreal it seems, the more it resonates in the heart. 

When it comes to competitive ballroom dancing, think of the athletically choreographed steps, the illusion netting, the million-watt smiles. A good dancer never lets the audience see her bleeding feet or his bad knees. Yet the grace and fluidity they bring to the stage is breathtaking. Their bodies tell a story and become part of the theatrical experience. In fact, the only thing I can think of that's more stagy than competitive dance is a musical. So the creation of a stage musical using Baz Luhrmann's 1992 film Strictly Ballroom as source material is a pretty natural progression. In fact, Luhrmann adapted the movie from his own stage play – a rare example of a story going from stage to screen to stage again. The show has its North American premiere run right now in Toronto.

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