Review: The Corpse Bride (Theatre PANIK)

Visual language prevails in The Corpse Bride, now playing at Toronto’s Harbourfront as a theatrical part of the Ashkenaz Festival.

A young man, walking to meet his bride in a neighbouring village, accidentally marries a corpse. This is The Corpse Bride, a classic Jewish folktale. Theatre PANIK’s The Corpse Bride, which is co-presented with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre, plays at the EnWave Theatre at the Harbourfront Centre, as part of the Ashkenaz Festival.

This story is most certainly not the Tim Burton version. The focus is predominantly on the bride, Gumpcha (Jennifer Balen) who is the only girl for miles. Her future husband Pinkel (Andy Trithardt) has been pre-selected by her overbearing mother (Sarah Orenstein). The bride runs after learning that there are no women being born because any girl who marries is immediately murdered by “the soldiers” – and therefore any women left are too scared to have baby girls. She runs into the woods, as do most of the other characters in the show, and chaos, as well as a murdered bride, ensues.

Despite the bleak subject matter, the story is funny. Theatre PANIK’s original take on the classic tale feels, for the most part, like a silent film. The Corpse Bride is told physically, through exaggerated, cartoonish movements, punctuated by the live musical score by John Gzowski. What is said is projected on a screen, functioning like intertitles in a silent film.

I liked the silent film inspiration – however, this motif was only most, but not all, of the show. There was a recurring song, spliced throughout the show, which felt out of place and added nothing. There was also a moment in the show, about an hour in, where someone starts into a monologue. All this felt like was a preachy moral, that for some reason couldn’t be “said” with the pre-established silent film motif. I don’t mind morals, even preachy ones, but I wish that it had been incorporated into the show more fluidly, instead of sticking out like a sore thumb.

The performances, as I said, are exaggerated movements, bordering on dance. I really appreciated the visual language that was created – there were specific movements for particular actions and emotions, and, for the most part, the story was completely clear. Each performer played a variety of roles, and each character was distinct from one other – and all that would really change would be the addition of a hat or cloak. This was particularly highlighted in the opening moments, during the introduction of the townsfolk.

Despite technical difficulties early on, the video projections were done well – two windows suggesting a church, or snow, etc. No image explicitly stated “this is exactly where you are” but did more than enough to suggest locales.

The run of The Corpse Bride is extremely limited – only three shows during the festival, which means you only have two more chances. While it has its flaws, the show is ultimately enjoyable and worth checking out.


 – The Corpse Bride plays at the EnWave Theatre at the Harbourfront Centre (231 Queens Quay West) as part of the Ashkenaz Festival
– Showtimes are September 1 at 5:00pm and September 2 at 1:00pm
– Tickets are $30 and are available online at the Harbourfront Centre’s website.

Photo of Evelyn Hart and Jennifer Balen by Paul Lambert.