Civil war in the living room

Theatre Mies debuts inaugural show

The war gets closer and tensions build.
The war gets closer and tensions build.

A new Kingston-based stage company, Theatre Mies, makes a bold debut this week at the Artel with its production of Abi Morgan’s Splendour.

Set in an unnamed European city mired in a violent civil war, the action takes place inside the mansion of a dictator. Splendour is not about that dictator, however, and the audience never meets him. Instead, the play focuses on four women whose lives are all tied to him by the suffering he has caused.

There is Kathryn, an American photojournalist, brutally cynical because it is the only way to functionally cope with the death she must document; Gilma, her working-class translator, who harbours no illusions about the future her socioeconomic circumstance or soldier boyfriend hold; Micheleine, the dictator’s wife, tasked with entertaining these two strangers while they wait for her husband; and Micheleine’s lifelong friend Genevieve, called over primarily to serve as Micheleine’s own outlet on which to take out her frustrations, all while struggling to cope with the death of a loved one.

As the day goes on and the sounds of war grow louder and closer, tension in the room builds and the audience sees the events of the day replay from a variety of subjective viewpoints.

Rapid-fire dialogue, asides directed at the audience and a complete absence of chronological linearity combine to form something quite feverish.

At times, watching Splendour can feel like bearing witness to four different people’s fractured memories of the same event all at once.

It’s a testament to Theatre Mies’ skill and dedication that they manage to pull it off.

Director Chris Blackwell’s minimal, claustrophobic staging is well-suited to the tension-based nature of the play, but even more so to the venue — the Artel’s performance space becomes Micheleine’s living room, and you as an audience member are in there with the characters as the action unfolds a few feet from your face. It’s an effective way to make the audience complicit in the traumas that unfold.

A small, character-based story like Splendour would fail completely without good acting, and thankfully every member of the four-person cast delivers.

Signy Lynch is especially notable in the part of Genevieve. Where lesser actors might have portrayed a more one-dimensional, pitiful character, Lynch brings a subtlety to Genevieve’s suffering that imbues the character with a very human, admirable dignity.

With Splendour, Theatre Mies establishes itself as a company that is unafraid of tackling and conquering difficult material, and watching them do so is a pleasure.

Splendour runs from March 6-9 and 13-16 at the Artel.

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