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Production shots of Janet Wilson Meets the Queen, courtesy of the GCTC.

Review: Janet Wilson Meets the Queen

By Courtney Merchand on April 27, 2016

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In light of the Queen’s 90th birthday, the world premiere of Janet Wilson Meets the Queen, written by Beverly Cooper, was well timed in its debut on the Great Canadian Theatre Company stage.

The play centred around Janet Wilson (Marion Day), a typical housewife resurrected from the late-1960s. Having seen Day play a powerhouse mogul in the GCTC’s Generous, I was quite impressed to see her in such a contrasting role. Her character seems to live in an idealized world, reflective of her obsession with the Queen – an idealized symbol for a Vancouver homemaker. Set in her complacent ways, Janet ignorantly refuses to get with the times and in the process, is being left behind by her family and forgotten in the world.

Cooper’s play touches upon some of the pivotal topics of the late-60s and early-70s such as the draft, the rise in feminism, coming of age and the growing gap of generational divide. The latter being a great representation of the cast itself.

Tony Adams, who play Robbie – the draft-evading, pot-smoking hippie – exudes the enthusiasm and excitement of a young, fresh-faced actor on the brink of starting his professional career, this performance marking his first appearance on the GCTC stage. On the other end of the spectrum is the enchantingly hilarious Beverly Wolfe as granny. Wolfe is no stranger to this theatre, having appeared in more than 20 productions at the company – many of which were at the former Gladstone location.

I had the pleasure of chatting with the two of them before the performance about what it was like to work together.

Adams is most notably recognized in the Ottawa theatre scene as the Co-Artistic Director for May Can Theatre, making a name for himself throughout festivals such as the Ottawa Fringe and Magnetic North.

“We created a company because we never thought we’d get the roles. Then our company started to get noticed and we’d be asked to audition for things but we were awful!” Until this performance, Adam’s sole encounter with the GCTC was working their box office, but now he’s living out his dream and making a name for himself on the stage.

For Beverley, this theatre company in particular is home. Her first appearance on the stage was in her mid-twenties and now, a couple dozen performances in, her roles have aged with her.

“[Tony’s] enthusiasm is contagious and he’s brilliant! It makes me remember my first show just looking at him,” she said. “I knew him as the box office guy, now to see him on stage! It’s interesting working with younger actors and being able to support them.”

And finally, another young face whose performance arguably stole the show was Katie Ryerson as the unabashed, strong-willed Lily. The audience was privy to her coming of age tale, watching her master the awkward youthfulness of adolescence and grow just a little more every scene into an independent young feminist.

The first half of the performance combined just the right amount of humour and sensitive subject matter with so much potential for build up. But the second half remained anti-climactic, never reaching it’s full potential. It took a far more serious turn and laughter was replaced by something akin to guilt and sadness for Janet’s character. The recurring presence of an astronaut seemed to be a metaphor for her grasp on sanity and life as she knew it, but was a little lost in its portrayal and left more questions than answers.

The overall production was made all the more complete thanks to set and costume designer, Roger Schultz. The four sections of the stage were effective backdrops that worked for every scene and the costumes were reminiscent of an era not long surpassed.

View the trailer for Janet Wilson Meets the Queen below:

Janet Wilson Meets the Queen is on at the Great Canadian Theatre Company until May 8, 2016. For showtimes and tickets, click here.

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