On Thursday evening, with the snow finally thawing around our feet, but a lingering crisp cold air silently threatening more to come, I made my way to the Alumnae Theatre on 70 Berkley Street, Toronto, for opening night of the Toronto Irish Players production of LITTLE GEM.
LITTLE GEM has been garnering awards and special recognition since its debut back in 2008, when it sailed onto the stage at the Dublin Fringe Festival; winning the award for Best New Writing. Within a year, it made its way “over the pond” to Edinburgh, where its popularity soared, winning the Best of Edinburgh Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Since then, the play written by Elaine Murphy has been travelling across the globe, entertaining audiences in major cities such as Dublin, Belfast, London, New York and Sydney, Australia.
But now it’s Toronto’s turn in bringing this popular show back to life. At the helm of this Irish stage show is director Cliona Kelly (Winner of Best Production at the ACT-CO Thea Awards) and producer Alan Hunt (Winner of Best Director & Best Drama: ACT-CO Awards, and Best Production: Acting Irish International Theatre Festival).
So lets get started. Little Gem tells the story of 3 generations of women in the same family, living in Dublin City Centre, Ireland. The comedy is presented to the viewers in monologue manner, where we get the chance to learn the deepest feelings, secrets and thoughts about what is not only going on in their lives, but their other female counterparts.
The three characters consist of grandmother Kay (played by Barbara Taylor), mother Lorraine (Rebecca De La Cour) and teenage granddaughter Amber (Billie Jean Shannon). As the play starts, we get to know each character intimately…Amber is a party-loving, wild child, who if not picking fights with the nearest girl who looks at her wrong, is devoting her time to waster boyfriend, Paul. Its not long before she gets some personal news that turns her life onto a whole new, unexpected path. Her mother Lorraine, who works in retail is stressed to the max in not only her job, but at home also. When she is not agitated by careless customers, she is bringing her anger back home and taking her frustration out on her self created, rigorous cleaning schedule. Unlucky in past relationships and picky in new ones, Lorraine craves some intimate attention, but remains afraid of being hurt (like she was by Amber’s estranged drug-addict father, Ray).
Grandmother Kay, on the other hand, is dealing with the events and side effects following her husband Gem’s stroke. With his psychological, social and physical impairments taking their toll, Kay is left wondering what is to become of their relationship, and whether they will ever recover what they lost.
Each woman is going through their own emotional turmoil, and we can see how each of them perceive each others dilemmas, when the separate monologues are performed. Despite their troublesome situations, you would be very surprised to hear that the play is indeed quite humorous.
Typical of the Dublin nature, the three of them do what they do best and bring humor to mask the struggles they are experiencing; with laugh out loud scenes and quite relatable situations.
With each scene, the audience becomes to love each character; flaws and all. The characters soon come to realize that the ones who will always be there for them is each other… but it wouldn’t be family unless there were several arguments along the path to that discovery.
In terms of the acting, the 3 ladies were outstanding. Used to seeing Barbara Taylor behind the scenes, it was great to see her up on stage, as she was the perfect person to play strong willed Kay; portraying her tough and soft side perfectly. She definitely brought the laughs, as it was hilarious and actually refreshing to see the ‘grandmother’ of the story discussing the physical aspect of her love life.
Billie Jean Shannon played teenage granddaughter Amber in such a realistic and believable manner. A native of Ireland’s capital herself, she truly brought authenticity to this Dublin set play. As a past Dublin university student myself, I could see several of my friends all rolled into the character of Amber, which brought me back to my carefree years.
As always, Rebeccca De La Cour did not disappoint in the role of Lorraine. I think I related to this character the most. Seeing her act out her frustration working in the retail environment, had everybody laughing, as we all have experienced this in one way or the other over our careers. This was the second production I had seen Rebecca perform in; the last being “The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down,” and once again, she delivered a fantastic performance.
Throughout the show, these three entertaining actors help us to appreciate the journey that their characters have travelled to overcome their problems. We see Kay come to understand that its OK to not be strong sometimes. A mother’s instinct; especially a grandmothers’, is to put everyone first before herself, but at what cost? We see Amber overcome her worst fears, only to see the beauty of healing from hurt, disappointment and loss. We finally get to see Lorraine believe in herself and be open to more of life’s gifts.
All of this…plus a barrel full of laughs. The Irish humor, particularly the Dublin one, is in a league of its own. Just when you think the laughs are over, there is a smart one-liner thrown into the mix.
In terms of the technical delivery of the comedy, I thought the sound design by Dan Schaumann was well timed and effective in expanding the visual and audible experience.
However, if there was anything I needed to slightly critique, it was the set design. I always find that with shows which are monologue driven, it is important to stimulate the audience through other means, as the character interaction can be limited. I have seen photos of different sets of this show around the world, and others seemed to showcase more elaborate set design. As this play is set mainly in the home of the three characters, it would have been interesting to see more set additions and props to create the surroundings of each scene.
However, regardless of this, the show was very enjoyable, funny and heart warming. It will make you laugh, cry and then laugh some more. It truly is a touching play that everyone can relate to.
If you would like to attend this comedy show at the Alumnae Theatre Toronto, tickets can be reserved by calling : 416-440-2888. Prices range from $23-$25 per ticket.
For online purchases, you can find all information by visiting www.torontoirishplayers.com
LITTLE GEM will be playing at the Alumnae Theatre from February 15th until March 3rd 2018.
I want to take the chance to wish the Toronto Irish Players, the cast and crew of Little Gem and the staff at Alumnae Theatre good luck for the rest of this run, and on future theatrical projects.