Direction: Tim Gordon
Circa Theatre; Circa One (Jan 27 – Feb 17)
Tom Scott (cartoonist/humourist/writer) wrote the very successful Daylight Atheist about his father – that was nearly twenty years ago now. And it’s his mother’s turn with Joan – played by mother/daughter combo Ginette McDonald and Kate McGill.
We open with white drapes and a white coffin – a bottle of Jameson’s and two shot glasses on the coffin lid. Joan (McDonald) is speaking in the afterlife, addressing her younger self (McGill) and sharing her story which is bleak – and yet it’s both heartbreaking and hilarious. Put that down to Scott’s sharp writing and McDonald’s wicked way with a line.
Joan’s an Irishwoman, she moves to rural New Zealand with an airman who knocked her up. Most of her children were ‘mistakes’ and they’re not the only ones she made. It’s a tough life and Joan battles through it.
The young Joan (McGill) is optimistic, she’s can-do and does. She works at the factory, raises the children, saves what she can, mends clothes, minds her way.
The older Joan would eventually need to be cared for by these children. She takes up in a granny flat that Tom (or Tommy or Little Tom as he’s referred to here to avoid confusion with Big Tom/Tom Scott Snr) builds onto his family home. Then she’s moved into a care facility.
Joan – deliciously captured by McDonald (in a role she had been informally auditioning for while the real Joan was still alive) has so many wincingly funny lines, but she’s painfully stubborn, she’s possibly an unreliable narrator and most certainly hard to like.
Act two is devastating – brilliant. It’s what lifts this from being a very good play to being truly magnificent, a tour-de-force of acting and writing, the simple set working so perfectly as the spotlight moves between the actors.
Joan might be tough to watch, for some. But it’s never less than riveting. It’s a strong start to the year for Circa Theatre.