Theatre Review: Griffin and Sabine – an infinite world of love and possibilities

Theatre Review: 
Griffin and Sabine – an infinite world of love and possibilities


review written by Todd Wong and Deb Martin

October 5th to November 4th
Arts Club Theatre
Granville Island

Surreal is a good way to explain sitting through the innovative Griffin and Sabine
play which began life as the  hit trilogy of books by author Nick
Bantock
.  
This was followed by the sequel trilogy “The
Morning Star” in which new characters Isabella and Matthew are
introduced through a
correspondence of their own, and also with Griffin and Sabine. 
The play at the Arts Club includes all six books, each separate trilogy
forming Act 1 or act 2.

The books are unique. The readers are eavesdropping on the private
correspondence of two lovers who have not yet met.  I fell in love
with the books for their sheer beauty and intrigue, as did millions of people around
the world.  With each page I turned, I anxiously looked forward to
the next postcard or letter that they wrote to each other.  

Bantock began his own career as a graphic artist. The books are
exquisitely illustrated, and the book’s narrative is the correspondence
contained on postcards or letters written between the two characters.
The books are filled with envelopes that the reader opens to take out a
letter. The fonts were created to resemble handwriting. His postcards
were elaborate paintings or artistic photographs.  It's wonderful
that Bantock's paintings are used a projections which serve as both a
linkage to the book, and to illustrate the postcards that the
characters are reading.

The characters write to each other between London, England and a
possibly mythical island in the South Pacific.  They travel to
each other’s home but they never meet up… maybe because they live in
different dimensions?  It is like a pop-up book for adults that is
tactile and involving.  And this made it magical.

And now it has been turned into a theatre play.  Not just a
didactic narrative play, or a memory play… but an incredibly innovative play
that takes place as much in the mind as it does on the stage. 
There is no dialogue.  Only monologues as each letter or post card
arrives.

The action begins with the character of Griffin, played by Colin Legge,
holding up an imaginary postcard, as the writer of the card, Sabine,
speaks as if she was writing it. Images from the book are projected in
the background to create scenery on an undecorated stage with few sets.
They help to draw the viewer into the story. Sabine is in a sunken
circle on the right side of the stage that represents the island of
Katie, and there is a chasm at the back of the stage that moves closer
and farther apart depending on how close the characters are at any
moment.

Lois Anderson is superb in the role of Sabine, a girl of unknown
heritage who is found and adopted by her exploring parents on the island of Katie.
She has the gift of telepathic perception and can see Griffin  as he
creates his postcards in London England. She is enchanted by his
artwork, and finally writes to him. Griffin, of course, believes he is
hallucinating when he receives a letter from a woman from a far off
land claiming to know him. Sabine is able to describe details that she
could only know by seeing Griffin, and Griffin is so lonely in his life
that he welcomes the company, even in its unusual form.

The play requires a suspension of belief and a willingness to escape to
a bit of fanastical fantasy where visions of wonder become real, and
voyages between far off lands just happen, and people fall in love
without having met.

And that’s just the first act.

The second act is based on the second trilogy of books where Isabella
is a student , and her boyfriend Matthew is an archeologist working in
Egypt.  Soon, Sabine writes to Matthew, and Griffin begins his
correspondence to Isabella.  Rather than a repeat of the first
act, with four characters the interaction is exponentially
multiplied.  When a character recalls a dream, the other three
characters stand together, then sway and hum and sing.  Very weird
– but very cool.

To create a play from the books presents the challenge of taking the
tangible where so much depends on visual impact, and translating it to
the verbal medium.  Dramaturg Rachel Ditor writes in the program
that “experimentation is at the heart of play development – oftentimes,
we find out what the play is by finding out first what it isn’t.”

What they found is that the story is a beautiful series of monologues
held together by themes of love, fear, hope and compassion.  It
allows the actors to really play with their words, and to accentuate
with subtle or sustained physical movements.  

While the first act emphasized the physical and emotional separation of
strangers getting to know each other, the second act builds upon an
already realized intimacy between Isabella and Matthew. Actor Andrew
McNee is wonderful to watch as Matthew, an expressive yin to the
inwardly focused Griffin.  Megan Leitch as Isabella is similarly
brilliant as they must demonstrate their deep love  without
conversing, or touching – but through their words and actions. 
This allows the action to move to a more sensually heightened tension,
that is threatened by the mysterious Mr. Frolatti, who threatens Sabine
and Isabella to turn over the correspondence.  

Marco Soriano plays both Frolatti as well as the Griffin’s cat,
Minalouche, bringing both a convincing menace as well as gentle yet
humourous presence to the stage.   We think that Soriano must
really enjoy playing Minalouce the cat.  He does such a great job,
and probably really likes having his stomach rubbed onstage by Isabella

Griffin and Sabine, is an exciting play to watch – the actors make good
use of the stage, the set moves, the artwork of Nick Bantock is
projected on the back screen, and a live musical score is provided by a
double bass, and marimba/tabla drums.

It may not be all
understandable on a first sitting.  The play, like interculturalism,
demands the audience to be open-minded, which brings an appreciation of
new ideas and experiences. 
And like a good film, this play
will beg another reading of the books and a return.  Think of
going on talk back Tuesdays when the cast and crew answer questions from the audience.

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