Rootless (Red Orange Projects) 2017 SummerWorks Review

Photo from rootless

Rootless, playing at the Factory Theatre at the 2017 SummerWorks Theatre Festival, is a story about immigration, about being uprooted and transplanted into a new world and attempting to make it your own. It’s an experience that many of either us or our parents or grandparents have lived through. Rootless is not only touching and poignant, but beautiful and transcendent through its use of projections and shadow puppetry.

A delightfully multiracial cast are the driving force behind Rootless. A story of a young woman (played by Saba Akhtar) from a fictional country Marvi (influenced by the people and culture of Pakistan) whose family is uprooted to the neighboring Pokrum (geographically influenced by India and the Pakistan/Indian border) where she struggles to find meaning in her life while having reverence for her past. After she loses a dear friend, she journeys back to Marvi where she discovers herself through dreams and myths, talking animals, a djin, and a mermaid in a desert.

Right from the beginning, what dazzled and caught my eye were the aesthetic elements of Rootless — their use of shadow puppetry elevates the tale to another mythical world as often the art form does. Their use of the technique is vivid and striking — in particular the mouse on the train, the interrogation crows, and the dried up mermaid in the desert — complimenting the narrative beautifully. Likewise the projections used to illustrate the myth of the fairy and the moon was just as captivating. Tijiki Morris, playwright and puppet creator, along with Waleed Ansari, lighting and video designer have done incredible work here.

I enjoyed Akhtar’s performance. Her search for truth and meaning is both honest and relatable and you feel for her throughout the piece. I also thoroughly enjoyed Phoebe Hu’s various characters, in particular how she played the dried up mermaid in the desert; enigmatic and creepy. I loved the music by Michelle Bensimon, which is mesmeric and stunning and evocative of far away desert lands and folklore.

I also found their scene transitions intriguing. The set consists of platforms on which long swatches of fabric are draped, backdrops for the shadow puppets and projections. Each scene begins and ends with these swaths of fabric being manipulated and moved to section off different areas of the stage, often seamlessly integrated into the narrative.

Rootless is visually stunning and a meaningful and thought-provoking story that will never lose its relevancy. It’s definitely worth the watch at SummerWorks this year.


Rootless plays at the Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St).

Remaining performances:

  • Friday August 4th 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
  • Saturday August 5th 9:15 pm – 10:15 pm
  • Sunday August 6th 9:45 pm – 10:45 pm
  • Monday August 7th 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
  • Wednesday August 9th 7:15 pm – 8:15 pm
  • Sunday August 13th 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 1-13 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 7 shows.

Image provided by the company