Review: The Penelopiad (Nightwood Theatre)

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad a “seriously mind-blowing” Toronto theatre experience

For many Canadian girls that grew up in the 80s and 90s, Anne Shirley and Mrs. Rachel Lynde were household names (or maybe I was just a giant geek?). Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea were like our virtual babysitters. So when I heard that The Penelopiad was being re-mounted with Megan Follows and Patricia Hamilton themselves at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, having missed it the first time, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to see it.

I was also curious to see how Margaret Atwood‘s acclaimed book would be staged. However, Mooney on Theatre previously reviewed this show the first time it was produced by Nightwood Theatre and I wondered how I would be able to make my own experience still as useful.

Based in part on Homer‘s epic poem The Odyssey, in The Penelopiad, Penelope tells her story in hindsight from 21st century Hades; she reminisces about her family life in Sparta, her marriage to Odysseus, her dealing with suitors during his 20 year absence, the twelve maids she befriends, and the aftermath of Odysseus’ return.

As my date for the night, Rachelle, and I entered the dimly blue-lit Buddies black box space, a light fog filled the room and the slow sound of sporadic water drops could be heard. I had no idea what to expect, but I had a feeling that what I was about to see might be seriously mind-blowing. And it was.

The visual aspects of the show were absolutely stunning. With costumes doubling up as prop pieces and set dressings, the use of fog, sound, and lighting all helping to create this haunting underworld called Hades, and the beautiful application of colour throughout, no detail was left forgotten. As the light hearted first half came to an end, however, I wondered if this show was ever going to make a deeper impact.

Did it ever. Act II was like having your heart broken ten times over. I won’t spoil the details of the tragedy but all I can say is thank God for the comedic talents of Patricia Hamilton! The crescendoing jingle of her vest of keys was a sure sign that laughing relief lay head. She bustled out on stage and came out with these hysterical one-liners and was gone just as quickly as she had arrived, her keys rattling away in the distance.

Out of the bloodshed emerged some fantastic performances. Megan Follows was, of course, mesmerizing as I expected she would be. Cara Gee as Melantho stole the show for me though. I may or may not have shed a tear during her monologue in the second act. And, I mean this in the best possible way, but these women were all really successful at playing men. Kelli Fox as Odysseus and Maev Beaty as Laertes were particularly adept in this.  I swear that’s a compliment.

This show is a true work of art.  From the acting, choreography, singing, and design, down to Margaret Atwood’s finest writing, this was definitely one of my top theatre experiences to date.


The Penelopiad plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) until February 10th, 2013

– Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, with additional matinées on Saturday and Sundays at 2pm and Wednesdays at 1:30pm

– Tickets prices range from $45-$49

– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-975-8555

Photo of Nicole Joy-Fraser, Maev Beaty, Monica Dottor, Fiona Byrne, Kelli Fox, Megan Follows, Audrey Dwyer, Sophia Walker, Pamela Sinha by John Lauener.