Review: Guns & Roses (The Original Norwegian)

Guns & Roses has nothing to do with the band of the same name. The title refers to a bouquet of roses and a gun that figure in the action. This is a show about teenagers who do MDMA on the night after their Grade 11 exams. It was developed by The Original Norwegian, in association with Breakaway Addiction Services and Mixed Company Theatre and is designed for a teenage audience. Most of the run is during the daytime and they are encouraging school groups to come.

I can’t imagine my high school allowing us to see this show. But that was long ago, and in a remote small town. I think this show is great for teens, though I fear many parents and educators would balk at the language and content. Which is exactly why I think it is a good show for youth: they may actually relate.

Not all teenagers are sexually active and do drugs. But a lot of them are. At least they were in the 90’s in a small town in northern Ontario and nothing I see in the media leads me to believe things are any different here and now.

The promo materials claim the show isn’t “preachy”, but there is a moral to it. I can’t imagine you could sell any school administrators on it if there weren’t. But the moral is a bit more nuanced that the tired and ineffective “don’t do drugs, kids”.

It did suffer from a couple of the common pitfalls of shows for youth: there was a very clear distinction between the “good kids” and the “bad kids”, and there was no convincing dynamic behind why the two kinds of kids were friends with each other.

Right off the bat, the “bad” male teen was angering the “good” male friend by cajoling him to skip out on his job in order to pick up drugs; and right off the bat the “bad” female teen was frightening her “good” female friend by pressuring her into shoplifting. Such dynamics can exist within the context of an established relationship, but it was hard for me to believe these people were actually friends beforehand when their characters were so disparate, so clearly placed on either side of a moral line in the sand, from the outset. There was also an unfortunate bit of slut-shaming.

But I’m an adult, and I’m not accountable to any school trustees. The dialogue was entirely believable, raw and real, and the performances followed suit.

The show was also multi-media, with projections and a live DJ, and that aspect of the play was perhaps the most successful I’ve seen. DJ Fase wasn’t just stuck on the stage, like musicians in such shows are so often. He reacted to the actions on stage both physically and musically, integrating them into the performance and, in an odd way, pulling the live actors and the projections together by being an intermediary.

In one scene there is dialogue interspersed with text messaging projected behind the actors. At first I was overwhelmed by the split focus but it only took me a second or two to relax into it. I have lots of text conversations and they’re always concurrent with other activities; that’s the nature of texting. Teenagers today, who learned to text before they could talk, will probably find this more engaging than any conventional theatre they’ve ever been dragged to.

The creators of the show are soliciting sponsors to help get students from Toronto’s lower-income areas to the show, and I hope they receive many, as those are the kids who will benefit the most and will not see it otherwise. All the information on sponsorships is available on The Original Norwegian site.


–  Guns & Roses is playing at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street) until October 28, 2011
– Student shows run October 17th to 21st and 24th to 28th at 9:30 am and 12:30 pm, with a Gala evening show on Monday October 24th at 7:30 pm.
–   Ticket prices range from $8 for the student daytime shows and $30 for the Gala. (You can help a low income student see the show for free for a sponsorship of as low as $25.)
–  School bookings for daytime shows can be made by calling 416-568-2466. The Gala can be booked by emailing or at the door.

Photo of Rebecca Applebaum by Christian Lloyd.