I have the honour and privilege of reviewing what was the very first performance of undercurrents 2019. The audience was greeted, as an opening line, with “Hello, fuckers,” and The Archivist continued to defy expectations from there.
I’ve never seen a theatre show quite like The Archivist before, and I really, really liked it. A friend who I sat next to called the performance ‘a conversation’ because of how much audience participation there was. I’d say the show provided food for thought, but that sells it short—this was a whole buffet dinner of thought, and we tucked in almost at once.
I’d say the show provided food for thought, but that sells it short—this was a whole buffet dinner of thought.
In her role as an archivist, Shaista Latif, the show’s creator, presents items from her personal archive of childhood mementos, photos, and video clips of news, cartoons, and family movies. Each has a story, explanation, or question to accompany it as she explores what it means to have a hyphenated identify (Afghan-Canadian in her case). There’s a Disney sing-along with an audience member at one point—if you’re a karaoke fan, seize the day and accept the challenge.
Excellent lighting design makes the transition clear as Latif goes from chatting with the audience, to commenting on an item from her archive, to more formally staged segments throughout the performance. Set and props are very few and used to great effect.
Audience participation is something I usually find to be a gimmick—here, it’s part of a thoughtful exchange with the performer. As audience members, we were polled on whether we were people of colour or white; whether we were working, middle, or upper class; why we had come to the show; and where we were from. Personally, I’m not used to talking so much during a show; it was a new experience.
Audience participation is something I usually find to be a gimmick—here, it’s part of a thoughtful exchange with the performer.
The Archivist is funny, and it’s also about racism, war, and imperialism. I learned things—interesting, wonderful, and upsetting things. I’m not sure there’s any higher praise I can give than that: this show made me laugh, made me think, and made me just a bit wiser. Within five minutes of leaving the theatre I’d told two people to see it.
This is a good play. I liked it. Please attend, I think you’ll learn something interesting about yourself and about other people.
The Archivist continues at the Arts Court Studio as part of undercurrents and runs until February 9th. Check the website for the schedule. Tickets are $20 for individual shows or $100 for a full festival pass. The show runs about 60 minutes with no intermission.