England: A Play for Art Galleries (SoCo Theatre) 2012 Toronto Fringe Review

What better way to start off this year’s Fringe Festival than on the edge of Fringe. In a site-specific location, namely the galleries of 401 Richmond Street, lives England: A Play for Art Galleries by Tom Crouch. The location is one I’ve walked past numerous times, but never had the chance to explore what lay beyond their doors. This is the perfect opportunity to check out a jewel of a Toronto landmark.

England is based on the story by Tom Crouch that focuses on the life of a woman slowly coming to the realization of her own impending death. The woman in question is played by both Jenna Turk and Celeste Percy-Beauregard who provide the voice to her inner monologue. This woman, who remains nameless, is fueled to move forward by her passions – the history of art and architecture, the doctors in the hospital with which she spends her days and the loving support and strength from her boyfriend.

Throughout the play, you are taken on a journey through 401 Richmond, exploring sights that will surprise and delight including the breathtaking and gorgeous rooftop garden terrace (that is currently closed to the public) and the indoor bird sanctuary. To me, it’s a treat just to be able to explore the building, which easily acts as a secondary character in the performance. This does mean, however, that the audience will be required to stand during the first 30 minutes of the performance. Be mindful that there are a lot of stairs to climb. Do inquire with the Fringe staff if you require wheelchair assistance.

The shared emotion between Jenna and Celeste is incredibly palpable and visceral. There’s a distinct juxtaposition between this woman’s almost forced enthusiasm for her love of art, her “citizen of the world” boyfriend who drives her to keep her head high, and her realization that her body is slowly shutting down.

Act 2 of the production is seated and takes place in the Urbanspace Gallery. The story fast forwards to a year in the future where the woman has received a heart transplant. The wife of the man whose heart now beats in the woman’s chest sits before them in a small hotel room. Jenna and Celeste address the wife – a woman of Middle Eastern decent – on the loss of her husband in order to save her own life. During the exchange, Jenna and Celeste switch in the persona in which they respond to the wife displaying such by changing the way they wear their head scarves. The revelation of this exchange is both shocking and thought provoking making England a Fringe show not to be missed.