Book review: "The Josephine Knot" by Meg Braem

The Josephine Knot  

The Josephine Knot is one of the 2018 releases by Playwrights Canada Press, and I received a copy of this play in exchange for a free and honest review.



The author of Blood: A Scientific Romance is back with a story in which a family must pack up a matriarch’s things while unpacking the past and untangling the present.

After Samantha’s baba dies, her fractured family is summoned to pick through the house full of belongings and trash, leaving taped notes on whatever they want to take. Between old napkins, a closet full of ketchup packets, and a freezer full of rotting meat are gems like a grandfather clock and plastic deer statuettes that hold more sentiment. While her father David sifts through his own memories, all Samantha wants is to find a simple object that could represent her place in the family. When other family members arrive, tug of wars and passive-aggressive conversations commence. In a house full of junk and sadness, it comes down to Samantha and David to find a new way to fit together.




A bit funny and a bit chilling, The Josephine Knot is the perfect blend of both - living up to its title to a T. Unlike with some plays and short fiction, with which I struggle to envision everything happening as it would on stage, I had no such problems with The Josephine Knot - it sucked me in from the very beginning, and there was a reason for that.

Reading this play, I felt as if I was reading about my own family’s story. The similarities are so uncanny that I felt almost creeped out by it. My name may not be Samantha, and my dad is not David, but my grandma was undoubtedly the baba from the story. With an apartment full of porcelain figurines, with the dubious cooking habits and a bad leg, my baba was as much of tour de force as Samantha’s grandmother. And as the character in the play, she was often at the heart of the family drama, leaving, even in her passing, some unresolved issues and a property to be divided among family members.

I was both fascinated and petrified by the fact that the playwright, Meg Braem, unknowingly, managed to perfectly capture the story of my dad’s family. However, obviously, many family dramas are similar, and I do not claim any privilege rights to a grandmother named Olga.

I can find no faults with The Josephine Knot. Reviewing it almost feels as if I am trying to pass judgement onto my own family. The blend of dark humour in the face of family drama, macabre details, heartbreaking revelations - you need to read the play to understand the whirlpool of emotions that I experienced when reading the play. It is very true to life, lively, and inspirational, in spite of the topic of death.

If I am ever someone important enough to warrant a biography written about me, I would like Meg Braem to do that. She, apparently, knows what she is doing.


About author


Meg Braem’s plays have won the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama at the Alberta Literary Awards and the Alberta Playwriting Competition, and Blood: A Scientific Romance was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Her work has been presented at the Citadel Theatre, Theatre Calgary, Lunchbox Theatre, the Belfry Theatre, Sage Theatre, Sparrow & Finch Theatre, Theatre Transit, Atomic Vaudeville, and Intrepid Theatre. She is a past member of the Citadel Playwrights Forum and was a playwright-in-residence at Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre. Her next book, Feminist Resistance: A Graphic Approach (co-authored with Norah Bowman and Domique Hui), will be published by University of Toronto Press in 2019. Meg currently divides her time between Edmonton as the Lee Playwright in Residence at the University of Alberta and Calgary as the co-director of the Alberta Theatre Projects Playwrights Unit.


Rating: 4.5 stars



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Book review: "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan

In Spirit  

A copy of "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was kindly provided to me by Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review.




Twelve-year-old Molly was riding her new bicycle on a deserted road when a man in a truck pulled up next to her, saying he was lost. He asked if she could get in and help him back to the highway, and said he could bring her back to her bike after. Molly declined, out of interest for her own safety. The next things Molly remembers are dirt, branches, trees, pain, and darkness.


Molly is now a spirit.

Mustering up some courage, she pieces together her short life for herself and her family while she reassembles her bicycle—the same one that was found thrown into the trees on the side of the road. Juxtaposed with flashes of news, sounds, and videos, Molly’s chilling tale becomes more and more vivid, challenging humanity not to forget her presence and importance.


About author


Tara Beagan is a proud Ntlaka’pamux and Irish “Canadian” halfbreed based in Calgary, Alberta. She is co-founder/director of ARTICLE 11 with her most cherished collaborator, Andy Moro. She served as the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts from February 2011 to December 2013. A Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning playwright, she has been in residence at Cahoots Theatre, NEPA, the National Arts Centre, and Berton House. Five of her twenty plus plays have been published, and her first film script, 133 Skyway, co-written with Randy Redroad, won the imagineNATIVE award for best Canadian drama. Beagan is also a Dora and Betty Mitchell Award-nominated actor.




Similar to my experience with “This Is How We Got Here”, I was lucky enough not only to receive a copy of “In Spirit” but also see Tara perform a piece from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Together with Keith Barker’s play, "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was one of my most anticipated reads, and I am a bit sad I got around to reading and reviewing it only now.


"In Spirit" serves as an important message about an ongoing issue of missing and murdered indigenous girls and women in Canada. Based on a true story with amended names and places, it pulls us into a mind of a young girl, who is trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly, we realize that she is a spirit and what she is trying to piece together is not just a broken bicycle but is her murder.

"In Spirit" is one of those plays that makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty and sad. Aand as it should. Because no child deserves the fate that had befallen Molly. It can happen to anyone and is still happening. And we must feel responsible for it.


It is disconcerting to say that ‘I liked the play’ as the word ‘like’ seems to be inappropriate due to the subject matter. I liked Molly as a character and found her to be in some ways more mature than her age - the way she feels threatened by the stranger on an instinctive level and how she notices his eyes lose a smile, etc.


A broken bicycle represents her life and her fragile body - the image striking enough to be a character on its own in this play. As she picks up pieces one by one, marvelling at how similar this broken bike is to her new one, Molly attempts to reassemble her identity and her memories. It is heartbreaking to read, especially her mentions of the family and dogs.


Oh god, the dogs!


As Molly reflects on her life, we learn that every dog that she ever owned was killed in road accidents (as their house is next to a road). Molly says:


“But do you think one of them even stopped to see what it was they ran over? ... Not even once! And sometimes for sure other people saw what happened, and they didn’t even say nothing either.”


That paragraph strongly resonated with me. It almost feels as if Tara is alluring to the society and police who seem to be doing nothing about the violence against indigenous people, who are going missing or killed and nobody seems to care.


I had, however, some issues with stage directions. There was a moment in which Molly drops the handlebars she was holding, and next direction says that she still holds them, and then after another couple of lines, she drops them again.


I am a visual reader. When I read, I visualize all the events as in a movie. Which means that whenever there is a tiny inconsistency in my “brain movie” script - I will most probably pick on it.


With "In Spirit", I had some issues visualizing the events. The descriptions of visual and sound effects of the billboard were not enough for me to recreate a full image of the play in my head. Perhaps, it would have achieved the desired effect, had I an opportunity to watch it on stage.


Sparse stage directions forced me to lower the rating of this play. Some may not find it enough for axing one star, but as I only go by the script, I can’t have incomplete or inconsistent directions. Perhaps, it was intentional to give actors free reigns, but I felt as if the play was lacking something.


I encourage you to read this play and educate yourself on the issues that are still plaguing our society.


Together with links to GoodReads and Playwrights Press pages, I added some links to articles on the topic.


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Book review: "This Is How We Got Here" by Keith Barker

This is How We Got Here  

I received a copy of "This is How We Got Here" from Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review. I requested it based on the description and, let’s be honest, the cover.




It’s been a year since Paul and Lucille’s son Craig committed suicide, and their once-solid family bonds are starting to break down. While the now-separated couple tries to honour their son, Lucille’s sister Liset and her husband Jim refuse to discuss their nephew. The ties that keep the four together as sisters, best friends, and spouses are strained by grief and guilt… until a visit from a fox changes everything.


About author


Keith Barker is a Métis artist from Northwestern Ontario. A graduate of the George Brown Theatre School, he has worked professionally as an actor, playwright, and director for the past sixteen years. He is a recipient of the SATAward for Excellence in Playwriting and the Yukon Arts Audience Award for Best Art for Social Change for his play The

Hours That Remain. He has served as a theatre program officer at the Canada Council for the Arts, and is currently the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto.




I was lucky enough, not only to read the copy "This is How We Got Here"  but also listen to Keith Barker read excerpts from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Keith’s voice as he read the dialogues was so perfect and natural for the story that I kept hearing his voice in my head as I read the play.


Even before starting "This is How We Got Here", I knew that this play would be a hard one to swallow. The premise of the story is tragic, more so, since Keith Barker had to deal with a similar tragedy in his family and some of the situations were drawn from his own experiences.


This is a story about a close-knit family which starts to fall apart as some of them refuse to acknowledge and deal with the loss and others lose themselves in it. "This is How We Got Here" is full of raw and unapologetic dialogues between couples, friends and siblings, as they all try to make sense of what their lives should be. They lash out at each other in the way that only the closest people can - pushing the buttons almost to the point of no return with the words that hurt the most.


The writing in "This is How We Got Here" is so realistic and true to life that anyone can relate to the story regardless of whether they experienced a profound loss or not. You can take any line from the play, and I am sure you have either said it yourself or had it said to you. In spite of the grievous theme of the plot, I can see myself reading this play over and over.


The introduction of a fox into the plot was rather surprising as I did not expect it to be relevant at all. It can be viewed as either an aspect of magical realism in the play or just the struggles of an unravelling mind of Lucille. I am a bit torn as I like both ideas equally, so I’d rather stay in the dark as what was the actual intention of the author.


I don’t know how to recommend "This is How We Got Here" well enough without making it sound as if it is only about grief. Yes, it is the story of grief, and loss, and mental health, and, perhaps, even bullying, and about broken families, and, yes, it will make you cry. But it is also the story of hope and trying to rebuild what is broken. It was very much worth your time.


I am very grateful to Playwrights Canada Press for once again giving me an opportunity to read and review one of their brilliant plays.


Rating: 4.5 stars


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Play review: A Woman of No Importance

  A Woman of No Importance


I have already published my reading and entertainment goals for 2018, in which I mentioned that I aim to watch 20 plays this year. And what a better way to start the year than with an Oscar Wilde play.

A Woman of No Importance


Filmed live at the Vaudeville Theatre, London on 28 November 2017.

Cast: Eve Best, Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron, Crystal Clarke, Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Lister Smith, William Gaunt

Synopsis: Olivier award-winner Eve Best (A Moon for the Misbegotten and Hedda Gabler) and BAFTA-nominated actress Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax) star in this new classically staged production of Oscar Wilde’s comedy directed by Dominic Dromgoole, former Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe. The first play from the Classic Spring Theatre Company’s Oscar Wilde Season, A Woman of No Importance will be captured live for cinemas from the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End. An earnest young American woman, a louche English lord, and an innocent young chap join a house party of fin de siècle fools and grotesques. Nearby a woman lives, cradling a long-buried secret. First performed in 1893, Oscar Wilde’s marriage of glittering wit and Ibsenite drama satirised the socially conservative world of the Victorian upper-class, creating a vivid new theatrical voice which still resonates today. ‘One can survive everything nowadays, except death, and live down anything except a good reputation.’ Oscar Wilde


I had not read this play before watching it, so I went into it rather blind. Judging by the summary, I expected it to be along the lines of “Importance of Being Earnest” - the play that I watched a couple of years ago and absolutely adored. However, “A Woman of No Importance” didn’t have the exact same effect on me.

The play is funny and brilliant in its own way - don’t get me wrong, however, in my opinion, it too much focuses on the society’s perception of propriety and prudishness. Obviously, that was the point as the social satire is the main theme of the play, but for me, it was just a bit too predictable.

The plot of the play didn’t go into the direction I thought it would. For some unknown reason, I was rooting for some side characters to be more prominent, e.g. Mrs Allonby whose flirtatious conversations with Lord Illingworth were fabulous. I would have loved to watch a whole play of them just flirting and insulting each other.

Mrs Rachel Arbuthnot, one of the key characters in this play, is portrayed by Eve Best who did a great job. However, the actress herself reminded me strongly of someone I know at work and I found it very distracting to the point that I couldn’t focus on her character. It has never happened to me before.

I was happy with the ending, even though I sort of wish the play was more satirical and fun. It is called be feminist in nature as it deals with lots of societal perceptions of women’s role in the world.

I think Mrs Allonby was my favourite as she was the only female character who constantly rebelled against the limitations put on her gender. She is witty and silver-tongued and I enjoyed her character way more than others.

There were several songs in the play, which took me by surprise, as they were weaved in as performances by the Lady Hunstanton, the host of the party. It was nicely done, in my opinion, and the songs were performed by the actress herself with the household staff and Lady Stutfield playing musical instruments.

I found the play lovely, but nothing beyond that and a couple of rather stellar lines.

Rating: 3 stars


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Book/play review: "Outside" by Paul Dunn

I would like to start my review by saying thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for giving me an opportunity to not only read the play but also attend the launch party and the performance at Buddies in Bad Times theatre.  

My review might contain some spoilers.

Outside cover



Daniel’s ready to talk. And his friends Krystina and Jeremy are ready to help. But is it too late? Set in separate but simultaneous lunch periods at two different high schools, the teenagers are faced with acknowledging what drove them apart. At his new school, Daniel speaks to the Gay-Straight Alliance about the bullying and depression that forced him to move. He looks back fondly at the bond he formed with Krystina and Jeremy in history class and the trauma he faced from anonymous text messages. At his former school, Krystina and Jeremy are setting up for their first GSA meeting while grappling with the guilt of not doing more to help their friend. For the first time Daniel has an appreciative audience, but his friends face an empty room. The narratives intertwine as Daniel gains more confidence in his queer identity and Krystina and Jeremy try to assess their boundaries as straight people who want to create a safe space. By talking about mistakes, abuse, a suicide attempt and a move, the teens find comfort in perspective and power in numbers.




I read Outside in one go - it is a short and a quick read. The perspective shifts flawlessly from Daniel to Krystina and Jeremy and back. It is not easy to read this play, as you can see from the very beginning how everything starts to snowball and you begin to dread the ending. As always when I read about bullying, I was overcome with annoyance towards adults in the play who would not interfere or do enough to help Daniel. The thoughts of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ followed me throughout my reading experience, and once the play was over, I was left feeling slightly bereft. As if there was something else that was missing from it. Something vital, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.


Outside launch party


I went to the launch party and got to listen to Paul Dunn and Andrew Lamb, the Artistic Director of Roseneath Theatre, talk about the inspiration behind the play, the research they did, and the reception by the targeted audience. Since I barely skim through synopses on the backs of books before reading them - for the fear of spoilers - I had not realized before coming to the launch that this play is written as an educational piece for the way younger audience than myself. It is targeted at grades 7 to 12 kids and is intended to be a conversation starter about bullying in schools and how this behaviour can lead to serious consequences. The play was partially inspired by the stories behind "It Gets Better" campaign, and we see Daniel when he is already in a better place and safe, as his story unfolds through the series of flashbacks.


After the party - and getting my copy signed by the author, yay! - we went to see the play. It was a great production with some ingenious set design that allowed the actors to quickly change the scene by moving parts of it. The design is minimalist and parts of the costumes are interchangeable, which allows actors to do everything on stage themselves, and makes touring across the province possible. I loved the cast! They all fit their characters perfectly. The cast is as follows: G. Kyle Shields as Daniel, Mina James as Krystina, and Giacomo Sellar as Jeremy. (I couldn’t place where I had seen Mina before, but then found out that she played Helena in “All’s Well That Ends Well” in Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in the Park in 2016. That was a fun play!)


Cast of Outside


After the performance, the actors stayed on stage and explained how they usually follow up the performance with introducing themselves, and then starting the dialogue with the audience and answering questions. They talked both about their experiences as actors and as educators and how much impact the play has on schoolkids. Some kids even came up to them after the show, identifying with the characters and sharing their stories.


Outside creative team


One of the interesting aspects mentioned by the cast is how different it is to perform this play (or read it for that matter) in front of adults and children. Adult viewers can tell immediately how serious things are and how potentially dangerous situation was for Daniel - and this was exactly how I felt while reading the play. Kids, however, are not able to foresee the consequences. In some aspect, their reactions to what is happening on stage is genuine and uninhibited. For example, kids tend to find certain things funny and would laugh in the places, where adults would not. The actors mentioned that even if there is noise during the performance at the beginning, it usually dies down by the end of the play.


Andrew Lamb mentioned that after their performances many schools across Ontario started their own Gay-Straight Alliances. To date, over 34,000 young people have seen the play. This is amazing!


I was absolutely delighted by the concept of blending theatre and education! Needless to say, the bullying is an incredibly serious problem and can lead to devastating results as it is proven again and again (as I am writing this, there was another story on the news about the boy committing suicide after being severely bullied as school in QC). It is on us, adults, to prevent this from happening not only by executing vigilance, but also by educating kids.


This is a wonderful and educational play, and I hope that it would continue its touring across Ontario, and there is also a possibility for it going to US! Wishing all the best to Paul Dunn and the creative team behind the play!


Book rating: 4 stars

Performance rating: 5 stars





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Play review: Cyrano de Bergerac (Broadway HD, 2008)

Cyrano de Bergerac  

Being as smitten as I am with theatre, I almost never get to see Broadway productions. Most of the plays that are screened at Cineplex are by National Theatre or Royal Shakespeare Company. One in a while, though, we get rare gems, like The Crucible, and this time - Cyrano de Bergerac.


It was the first time I got to see this play on stage and was fairly entertained by it. Cyrano de Bergerac was written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand, and there are two most famous English translations - by Brian Hooker and by Anthony Burgess. This production used the text translated by Anthony Burgess. The play was on stage briefly in 2007, then revived and filmed in 2008.




Soldier and poet Cyrano de Bergerac (Kevin Kline) is in love with Roxane (Jennifer Garner), but he’s too ashamed to admit it because of his big nose. When a cadet, Christian (Daniel Sunjata), falls for Roxane, he asks for Cyrano’s help in sharing his feelings. Cyrano writes love letters signed with Christian’s name, and Roxane doesn’t realize that it is Cyrano’s words she falls for.


The events of the play take off in Paris, in 1640.


(I have slightly abridged the synopsis as I felt that it was too spoilery otherwise.)


I didn’t realize that the production was from several years back - almost a decade - and wondered why I hadn’t seen this play before.


Kevin Kline was fantastic as Cyrano - he was both witty, eloquent, touching, and a bit tragic. It took me some time to get used to Roxane as her character seemed to be a bit exaggerated. I even sympathized with Christian a bit, although he did look way too snobby and uptight at times. The play is set at my favourite time period - the same time as the events of The Three Musketeers, so I was delighted to see the play in the full period costume. Needless to say, the duels were among my favourite parts (and I kept getting flashbacks to BBC series The Musketeers).


I enjoyed the play for the duels, wit, and all the schemes that Cyrano comes up with. I felt that Roxane was a bit too one dimensional, as her role was basically that of a swooning and spoiled lady, but I enjoyed Jennifer’s acting a lot. I just didn’t like the fact that the only prominent woman in this story was just an object of affection and nothing more.


Overall, it is not too spectacular, but funny enough to keep you entertained. Make sure to grab enough snacks and drinks before the broadcast, though, as the whole 2.5 hours of the play screened without an intermission.


Rating: 3.5 stars


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Book/play review: "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller

The Crucible  

This is going to be the review of both the text of "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller and the Old Vic production of 2014, which was shown in Cineplex on July 2, 2017.



Everybody has heard of Salem witch trials, one of the most well known cases of mass hysteria in Colonial America between 1692 and 1693, that resulted in trials and executions of over a dozen of people accused of witchcraft and consorting with devil. Arthur Miller wrote his version of the events based on the evidence, adding some fictional elements and changes to the story. He wrote the play as an allegory for the contemporary hysteria and accusations surrounding communism propaganda.


That was in 1953.


Needless to say, that this play is as relevant as ever today, and "witch hunt" is still used as a popular rhetoric in politics.


Old Vic Production


I watched the play first and then read the text, but I adored it even more for it. The text is not dense at all, and reads fairly easily, in spite of an old type font in my copy. Arthur Miller breaks the third person narrative by historical references and his own thoughts, which works really well and adds his perspective on the events and characters.


I thought it was a relatively new production and was surprised to learn that it was originally staged in 2014 at Old Vic theatre in London, captured by Digital Theatre, then released digitally in 2015. Can’t believe it took Cineplex 2 years to bring it to their viewers in Canada!


Old Vic’s production of "The Crucible" was directed by Yaël Farber. It was the second play directed by her that I saw this year. The first one being Yerma, and I could definitely tell that both plays shared the same dark and gruesome feel.


Yaël is a multiple award-winning director and playwright. Her production of Mies Julie won a string of international awards at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival, was named one of the Top Ten Productions of 2012 by The New York Times, and Top Five Productions of 2012 by The Guardian.


Before “The Crucible”, I had never seen Richard Armitage on stage (unsurprising really, as he turned on stage after 12 years gap), although I, naturally, saw him in The Hobbit trilogy and loved his acting. His performance as John Proctor is absolutely stunning. Delivered by Richard in his deep, gruff voice, Proctor’s words piece you to the core as you see this strong-willed and honest farmer struggle with fanatics and ill-wishers, only to eventually succumb to his own guilt and politics.


The stage decorations are minimal; the attention is focused on stage with the audience sitting around it. The stage is dark and the smell of incense is obvious (sadly, not in the cinema broadcast). Yaël once again managed to stun me with her direction and heightened sensory experience. Similar to Yerma, "The Crucible" is not just a visual experience, but a bodily experience as well. Something that you let course through your whole body.


The production is very true to the text, almost word to word. If you have an opportunity to watch this recording from Old Vic - please, do! It will make an impression on you, I swear.


In this interview to The Guardian, Richard mentioned that he would like to work with Yaël Farber again, which would freaking fantastic. His portrayal of John Proctor will always have a special place in my heart.


To be fair, I was not familiar with any other cast member before watching the play, but it would not be fair to praise only Richard for his acting, when Abigail Williams and other girls in the play delivered a no less stunning performance. Abigail was played by an emerging actress, Samantha Colley. She was so defiant, so cunning, and that the same time so naive, that I still can’t decide if I admire her or despise her more.


Definitely a must watch!


Plot/script: 4 stars

Production: 5 stars

Overall: 4.5 stars





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Play Review: Obsession - National Theatre Live


I went to see the broadcast of "Obsession" play on May 11. It was broadcast live from the Barbican Theatre in London and was only about an hour and a half long with no intermission. The play is a new stage adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film. I have never watched the movie, but I was attracted to this play because of two things: one, the main protagonist Gino is played by Jude Law, whom I had never seen on stage; and two, the play was produced by Ivo van Hove, whose in Hedda Gabler I really enjoyed (he also produced A View From The Bridge).

The movie “Obsession” that this play is based on, was quoted to be the first neorealist movie and an unofficial adaptation of the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (the book that I have heard of but never read).


The play was introduced by a short video clip of the rehearsals and interviews with Ivo van Hove and Jude Law.


Here is the synopsis of the play from NT Live:


Gino is a drifter, down-at-heel and magnetically handsome. At a road side restaurant he encounters husband and wife, Giuseppe and Giovanna. Irresistibly attracted to each other, Gino and Giovanna begin a fiery affair and plot to murder her husband. But, in this chilling tale of passion and destruction, the crime only serves to tear them apart.


No matter, how much it hurts me to admit it, but I was extremely bored throughout the play. The stage decorations and props are so few and minimalistic that it leaves most to the imagination of the audience to decide when the characters are eating, sleeping or how much time has passed. I understand that it comes from the premise and the background of the story: Giuseppe and Giovanna are poor - their restaurant is void of customers when Gino stumbles in. Gino himself barely has enough money for one meal and definitely not enough things to call his own. Even though the attraction between Gino and Giovanna is portrayed interestingly through movements and glances, their love story is nothing new. The whole plot felt trite and predictable, and I was grateful that I didn’t have to suffer through more than one act of it.


Jude Law is great as Gino, both alluring and wild, but Giovanna was barely anything at all as a character, and it is sad. The most exciting part of the play was how van Hove decided to portray murder and blood. Instead of an actual car, there was a car engine hanging a bit over the stage. It revved and smoked and produced black oil-like substance that covered the characters on stage as they grappled and twisted in fight. That black slime represented the blood and crime, and that was probably the most unique setup that I have ever seen. Definitely an ingenuous idea on Ivo van Hove's part.


But otherwise it was so uninspiring - I found the behind the scenes footage more interesting to watch than the actual play - that I couldn't help glancing at my watch, and it never happens! Slightly disappointed, but otherwise content, if not happy, to have seen both Jude Law’s and Ivo van Hove’s work on stage. Can’t say it is something I would recommend, unless you are a fan of either or the movie.


Personal rating: 3 stars




Play Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - National Theatre Live


Raise a hand if you can pronounce the title of this play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, in one go without twisting your tongue - because I can’t! So, I am going to refer to it from now it as ‘RaG’ in my review, because even typing it in full is a hassle.

I heard about this play for the first time at my very first job, where we had the movie with same title available at the library. It was released in 1990 and had two of my (now) favourite actors - Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. I never had a chance to rent this movie and for years ‘RaG’ in my head was labelled as ‘that one movie I never got to watch’. I knew that it was somehow linked to Shakespeare, but only later I learned that it was originally a play by Tom Stoppard and not a movie (the movie had Stoppard as both director and writer). When National Theatre announced this play in honour of the play’s 50th anniversary and casted Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe (the latter I had been dying to see on stage), I was ready to buy tickets on spot. I believe that the fact that ex Harry Potter was on stage had to do something with the younger than usual audience at the broadcast - which is great as I would love to more younger people go to theatre. I watched this play on April 20, and if I could, I would watch it again.


As per usual, I set my mind on reading the play before watching it on stage, but I didn’t have time to finish it. And I am glad it happened this way as I think it is easy to get lost in the absurdist nature of the dialogues and miss the point, while watching it on stage added a different layer of meaning.


If you don’t know what this play is about but you feel that it is vaguely familiar, well, you are not alone. Tom Stoppard took two secondary characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and wrote an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy that portrays those two inseparable friends as confused and unwilling participants in the events of Hamlet. There are bits of dialogues and actual scenes from Hamlet, but they are used to only enhance the absurdity of everything that is happening. R and G are confused by their existence, by the world’s existence, by everything that is happening, including Hamlet’s depression and obsession with his father’s death. They futilely try to find the meaning in everything, but eventually, even when they discover that the letter with death sentence that they carry has their names, they still follow the appointed road to the end.


The play is funny, absurd, existential, and thought provoking. It is a meta within a meta, and theatrical bits and scenes serve as the commentary and parody on Hamlet. Both Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe do an amazing job as two confused fellows, who try and fail to make sense of things. They talk about life and death, and probability. The play has too many layers to take in just in one viewing. That is why I hope I would get a chance to see it on stage again, as I feel in no way qualified to talk about the play indepth.


The play was introduced by a short movie, as usual, with both actors talking about the play and stage. The Old Vic’s stage was transformed and sort of elongated to bring it closer to the audience. The play originally premiered in the same theatre 50 years ago, which made it an incredible experience for both the actors and the audience to experience it again on the same stage.


Highly recommend to English majors, Shakespeare lovers as well as fans of theatre!


Personal rating: 4 stars




Book/Play review: Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen + National Theatre Live

This is going to be the review for both the script and National Theatre Live production, as there are some certain differences to Hedda’s character, which I found really interesting. Beware of plot spoilers ahead.

“Hedda Gabler” is a four act play written by the norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1890. The edition that I read was translated by Jens Arup and the introduction written by James McFarlane (Oxford World’s Classics). The introduction gives us a brief synopsis of Ibsen’s life and work.


The play starts on the morning after Hedda and her husband, Jorgen Tesman, arrived from their six months long honeymoon. Tesman holds a University Fellowship in cultural history and used the opportunity of their honeymoon to do his research, which Hedda finds incredibly boring and ridiculous. They are visited by Tesman’s aunt, who lives nearby and takes care of her seriously ill sister. The next visitor is Mrs. Elvested who brings the rumour of Ejlert Lovborg being back in town. There is also a rumour, brought by Tesman’s friend, a judge named Mr. Black, that Lovborg is going to apply for the same position in University as Tesman and that his latest book was very successful. All of this prompts a series of events that snowball to a climatic ending.


“Hedda Gabler” is a very interesting play with multiple layers. Written in the 19th century, it shows us a character of Hedda who is quite obviously ahead of her time. Ibsen even intentionally titled the play with Hedda’s maiden name as if to show that she was not just her husband’s wife. Hedda is smart and strong-willed, she is hungry for knowledge and dominance - things that were only available to men in that time. She was brought up by her father, the general, and is said to have learnt to ride a horse and fire a gun - as a matter of fact, she owns a pair of pistols that play a prominent role in the play. She despises any sign of weakness, expressed by either a man or a woman. There are mentions of her pregnancy throughout the play, but she ignores or diverts the attention whenever the subject is brought up, which made me think that she viewed her pregnancy as yet another boundary of the marriage and the weakness.


Hedda can be quite cruel and unsympathetic towards people in her quest to overpower them, and Ibsen even said that the play is “the study in demonic”, which made me think at the very beginning that Hedda exhibits signs of psychopathy. It is, obviously, almost impossible to prove, and I think it would be safe to assume that Hedda was suffering from some sort of mental illness, as a result of her life.


Hedda is trapped by the society norms and expectations. She married Tesman because it was expected of her. She doesn’t love him, she doesn’t care about his research, but she does care about appearances and social status. She has high expectations for his potential promotion at University, as that would bring money and status, and that is why the moment that promotion is threatened, she springs into action. Hedda does all she can to protect herself and her status, however, it still leads to her downfall, as she is unable to break away from the society’s rules. She can’t leave her husband, she has no way of making money or supporting herself. In a way, she even envies Mrs. Elvested her simple courage to leave her husband for Lovborg. At the end, she takes her own life as her only way of escape.


I found the way Hedda manipulates people incredibly fascinating. She is a true mastermind in this play, although she does fall prey to Mr. Black. In many ways, “Hedda Gabler” is a feminist play as it shows a woman struggling to be on the same level as men. Since it was set in the 19th century, it is obvious, that the root of all her troubles is the time and society itself. That is why I was incredibly excited to learn that National Theatre production moved the time of the play to contemporary age.





If we take Hedda out of the 19th century and the boundaries that existed there, would she still exhibit the same internal conflict? Would she be still trapped? How different would she be? Those were the questions that kept running through my head.


This new version of the play was written by Patrick Marber. He quite masterfully adapted the script, changing some of the settings and dialogues to fit the modern time. Hedda is played by Ruth Wilson, who brings both fierceness and vulnerability to her character.


Why did modern Hedda marry Tesman? She didn’t have to. But she did because she felt that she was getting old. Was she really as trapped as she thought she was? Because she could have left her husband, she could have divorced him, she could have started a new life. So, why?


I think, that the difference between Ibsen’s and Marber’s Hedda lies in the fact that while the former is trapped by society - something that she unable to change, the latter is trapped in her own mind. Modern Hedda is brilliant and beautiful but she is also lost and unable to find her way out. Why? It is hard to say as we don’t get any glimpses into her childhood. However, it is clear that there are certain, probably self-imposed, rules, that Hedda has to abide by. And that makes me believe that Hedda is plagued by mental illness more so in the modern version than the original play. I found both the script and the NT production to be equally fascinating, but for me those were two different Heddas: one trapped by society and another by herself.


Was Hedda a demon, who gave a recovering alcoholic a drink and then a gun to “do it beautifully”? Or was she a coward with “no talent for life”, who couldn’t break the chains of marriage and society? I believe that she can be viewed as both and none at the same time. Hedda Gabler is a unique character, who defies all expectations.




  • Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Hedda Gabler - National Theatre Live. March 26, 2017.

Book review: Waiting Room by Diane Flacks (script)

Waiting Room

"Waiting Room" is a two-act play by a Canadian playwright Diane Flacks. It is a fictional story which was, nevertheless, inspired by the author’s own experience at SickKids Hospital.

At the centre of the play we have two pairs: Chrissie and Jeremy, young parents, whose baby daughter is suffering from a brain tumour, and Dr. Andre Malloy and his assistant Melissa De Angelo, who are both brilliant and competent but not flawless.


Chrissie and Jeremy both struggle with their daughter’s illness in their own ways, alternating between antagonizing and supporting each other. They form uncommon friendships with other parents who visit the hospital as well as medical staff. They spend so much time in the hospital waiting room that they have nicknames for nurses and doctors.


Dr. Malloy is not known for his pleasant bedside manner but he is a brilliant and successful surgeon, who unexpectedly finds himself facing his own medical dilemma. He is god-like and uncompromising, much like other similar characters in medical dramas, however, he is brought back to earth and is forced to face his own mortality.


I was hooked by the writing from the very beginning. As someone who is both personally familiar with doctors and their peculiar sense of humour as well as cancer treatment, I found this play very true to life. The author’s introductory notes to characters are poignant and made me long to see this play on stage. “Waiting Room” is gripping and heartbreaking as well as heartwarming at times, as it examines humanity and ethics in life and death situations. Although the play deals with terminal disease and is hard to read - let’s be honest here - it is so well-written, that I did not feel crushed by the story as much as I had expected to be.


However, if there was one thing that I could change about it, it would have been the epilogue. Even though I do understand why the epilogue was written the way it was written, I still liked Scene 15 as the ending for the play way more.


I have received a copy of this play from Playwrights Canada Press in exchange of a free and honest review.


Personal rating: 5 stars


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Book review: Watching Glory Die by Judith Thompson

Watching Glory Die

"Watching Glory Die" is one act play written by a Canadian playwright Judith Thompson, who was inspired by the tragic death of nineteen year-old Ashley Smith. Ashley Smith died of self-inflicted strangulation, while being on a suicide watch at Grand Valley Institution for Women. Her death caused many questions and resulted in a legal inquest and criminal negligence charges against the warden and deputy warden. The trial stretched for several years and eventually her death was ruled as a homicide.

The play portrays the injustice and mistreatment of women, and more so the treatment of mentally ill inmates, within the judicial system. The story is delivered from three women’s perspective: a teenaged inmate Grace, who suffers from hallucinations; her adoptive mother Rosellen; and a working-class guard Gail.


The cruelty and injustice of everything that Glory is going through is truly jarring to read. Just like Ashley Smith, Glory is initially arrested and imprisoned at the age of fourteen for throwing an apple at the postman. She is systematically abused by the guards, who take her every action as a reason to charge her again and again, increasing her sentence time. Glory spent years in prison and by the time the play takes place, she has been there for five years and is now truly lost in her hallucinations. She talks incoherently, keeps envisioning her birth mother as a crocodile who is going to come and drag her into a swamp; and has self-harm tendencies which eventually lead to her death.


The script is less than fifty pages long, but I found even those very hard to read. The injustice of everything that is happening, not only against Glory, but also other women in the play, is hard to swallow, especially since it is not fiction, but reality. It is very powerful play both for its language and its topic, and I encourage you to read it, as it brings the awareness to the treatment of women and mentally ill inmates in prisons. In the words of Gail: “This whole place is fucking crazy. Like the world turned upside down.”


It is definitely not the kind of play that would keep you guessing about the ending or that you would want to read over and over again, but it is very important as it serves as a reminder of the issues that still exist in the correctional system.


*I have received the copy of this play from Playwrights Canada Press in exchange of a free and honest review.

Personal rating: 4 stars




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Book review: Pontypool by Tony Burgess


I have an unfortunate habit of buying books on a whim, simply because they remind of something else: another book, a TV show, or maybe there is just THAT feeling that I will like this book. Heavens know how many times I was mistaken. Especially, since I am plagued by a chronic aversion to summaries and back cover blurbs. (Meaning, most of the time I have no idea what the book is about until I start reading it. Isn’t it fun? Trying to justify a purchase without reading a book is my personal nightmare.)

I was browsing Arts & Letters section at Indigo, wondering if I might by some chance find anything by Terence Rattigan (even though I knew perfectly well that there were no plays in stock - I am an eternal optimist), when I came across this little play. The name caught my eye for an obvious connection with the author of  A Clockwork Orange, but when I looked at the cover my first thought was - “It is so Welcome to Night Vale - esque!”.


I purchased Pontypool after only briefly skimming the back cover (and being appalled at the price of almost $18 for a 50 paged book). I admit that I probably would have left it on the shelf if I hadn’t a bit of money left on my gift certificate. Therefore, I left the store with Pontypool, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" by Tom Stoppard and a dotted Leuchtturm notebook.


What was rather unusual about this purchase was that I, the procrastinator of procrastinators, read Pontypool on the same day of purchase. Hooray!


Here is a bit of a back story.


Pontypool is a script which was originally written for a radio drama and then was turned into a film script only to be eventually produced on theatre stage. It is based on the novel called "Pontypool Changes Everything" which is book 2 in The Pontypool Trilogy. (And ain’t that confusing!) However, I believe you can read the script without really missing out on anything from the trilogy.


The copy that I got was published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2015.Tony Burgess is a Toronto born Canadian author and screenwriter. Which made me rather excited as I feel as if I don’t read enough of Canadian authors.


Pontypool is set in a small rural town, somewhere in Ontario. The whole story takes place in a radio show studio, which immediately reminded me of Welcome To Night Vale podcast series. The host of the show, Grant Mazzy, may not be Cecil, but the events that develop in that radio station are both unpredictable and weird, and, let’s be honest, a touch scary. We are talking apocalypsis type of scary here, folks.


I don’t to say anything else because it is easy to spoil the plot twist (yes, there is a twist), but I will just quote one sentence from the very first page: “Consider the fateful morning Ms. Colette Piscine swerves her car to miss a cat as she goes across a bridge and has to get fished, alive and shivering, out from the drink.”


And if this doesn’t make you want to read this little, bizarre script, then just look at the cover. Isn’t it just very Lovecraftian?


Personal rating: 4.5 stars



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Play review: The Audience (Mirvish)

The Audience


The Audience is a play by Peter Morgan, written and originally produced in 2013 by National Theatre, with magnificent Helen Mirren as The Queen. (Morgan is also the the creator and writer of Netflix original series The Crown.)  The play received several awards, starting with Helen Mirren who received the best actress Olivier for her portrayal of the Queen in 2013. The play was briefly brought to Broadway in 2015 with Helen Mirren reprising her role of Queen Elizabeth II but with the whole new cast. Later in 2015, the play was revived in West End with Dame Kristin Scott Thomas as Queen Elizabeth II.

I was lucky to see the live broadcast with Helen Mirren three times in the past few years. And I admit that I might even consider seeing it again if I have a chance. Needless to say that I loved the play so much that I was ecstatic to learn that Mirvish decided to bring it to our local stage. Description from Mirvish website:


THE AUDIENCE takes theatregoers behind the walls of Buckingham Palace and into the private chambers of Queen Elizabeth II as she meets with each of her Prime Ministers through her 60 year reign, from when she was a young mother to now as a Great Grandmother. From the old warrior Winston Churchill, to the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, through the charm offensive of Tony Blair right up to today's meetings with the current incumbent David Cameron, the Queen advises her Prime Ministers on all matters both public and personal. Through these private audiences, we see glimpses of the woman behind the crown and witness the moments that shaped a monarch. Don’t miss being a part of THE AUDIENCE.


In this production, Fiona Reid takes on the role of Queen Elizabeth II, and she does it splendidly. Seeing as I have seen this play enough times to know certain lines almost by heart, it allowed me to pay additional attention to the way the lines were delivered and the production itself.


The set design is rather simple, representing Buckingham Palace with two big armchairs as the main focus for the majority of the play. The only major difference in the setting and scenes that I noticed was that Mirvish decided to show the coronation - something that was not part of National Theatre’s original production.


There was one particular thing that I was very much so looking forward to in Mirvish production was how they were going to deal with changing the Queen’s outfits. During the course of the play, the time jumps from recent years to the beginning of the Queen’s reign, which required Helen Mirren to change quickly on stage. There were barely any pauses between the scenes and dialogues, and sometimes she had to jump right into another scene. I was extremely curious about how Mirvish was going to deal with that. NT managed to orchestrate the first change on stage so quickly that I remember audience applauding right after it happened. And all following changes were done on stage as well.


I admit that Mirvish disappointed me a bit. The first change happened on stage in a very similar way - with the help of two ladies. However, Mirvish cheated a bit: they dimmed the lights and focused the audience’s attention on the equerry and his monologue. For some other changes, Fiona was hidden behind the folding screen and delivering lines from behind it.


I understand that having an actress quickly change the costume and wigs on stage is a rather complicating endeavour, that is why I was so impressed by NT production.


I found Fiona a bit more brisk and less warm than Helen in her portrayal of the Queen. She made shorter pauses between lines, which took me some time to get used to, to be honest. However, her performance was as good, as funny, and Fiona’s little dance during the Scotland scene was just precious (although Helen was even more hilarious). I personally liked KATE HENNIG as Margaret Thatcher more than her counterpart, Haydn Gwynne (however, Haydn was fabulous in her indignation! Seriously, comparing these productions is like comparing green and red apples - both are great!).


And the corgis! Don’t forget the corgis, whose two second dash across the stage resulted in an unified ‘awwwws’ from the audience.


Overall, I really enjoyed seeing this play. I do admit that my heart will forever be taken by Helen Mirren. Nevertheless, I can easily give this play 4 out of 5 stars. I watched this play on February 3rd, 2017 on stage at Royal Alexandra Theater.


If you love British history, the monarchy or old good British humour, this is the play for you!


Personal rating: 4.5 stars





More of my theatre reviews

Play review: The Entertainer - Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company

The Entertainer - Kenneth BranaghI am fortunate to live close to a Cineplex movie theatre which allows me to go to pretty much every special event or theatre play broadcast they do. I try to go to all of them (or 99% of them), regardless of whether I have heard of them or have seen them before. Most of the time I luck out and come home thoroughly impressed by acting, production, etc. I very rarely leave disappointed. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get this "meh" feeling, and, unfortunately, The Entertainer falls into this category. To to put it shortly, The Entertainer failed to entertain me. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun!) The Entertainer is a John Osborne play about a middle-aged man, Archie Rice, who is a musical-hall performer, but his career is a failure. He was married twice, had numerous affairs, and at the beginning of the play he lives in the house with his second wife Phoebe, his father Billy, and his younger son Frank. His daughter Jean comes to visit unexpectedly, following her quarrel with her fiancé Graham who breaks an engagement with her because she went to a Trafalgar Square to join a protest. This family's get together and their quarrels are quickly overshadowed by the news of Mick, Archie's elder son, taken prisoner of war in Middle East. The play is set in 1960s in Britain, and is full of various references to "the old days". The broadcast opened with a short film about a young John Osborne (not the playwright) who was talking about THE John Osbourne (the playwright), which was somewhat funny but also confusing. The Entertainer is a production of Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, in which Kenneth stars as Archie Rice but doesn't direct it. The play is on stage at London's Garrick Theatre. The Entertainer is a three act play, however, this production split into two acts with one intermission. The scenes in the play switch between Rice's family living room and their bickering and the stage of a theatre where Archie performs. The transformation is quick and fluid with the characters often freezing after a punchline and the limelight suddenly illuminating Archie (and once Frank) who talks or sings or tap dances on the stage, surrounded by dancing girls. I found the transitions to be quite fascinating. However, when Archie was on the stage of an imaginary music-hall and was looking straight at the audience of Garrick Theatre, it felt as if Kenneth was basically breaking the fourth wall, while still being in character, and I found quite curious but also a bit annoying. He would react to laughs or comments from an imaginary audience and the discrepancy of the reaction of the actual audience at Garrick didn't seem funny at all. (I was in the audience of a cinema hall watching Kenneth as Archie on the stage of Garrick Theatre pretending to be on stage of a music-hall. It was a bit weird. Kenneth, undoubtedly, is an extremely skilled actor as he managed to bore me out of my wits by Archie's performance. Archie is mediocre, grumpy, angry at life. He had an affair with Phoebe when Jean was just born. He continues to have affairs with other girls while being married to Phoebe, and even plans to marry a young girl but his own father prevents it. He has been avoiding to pay taxes for 20 years and he consistently hides from creditors. He is dismissive of Phoebe, his father, not cordial with his daughter. He is a disappointment and acts like one. His character left me confused: are we supposed to sympathize with him, or despise him, or what? Throughout the play, I just wanted to shake him and tell him to get a grip. He was offered a very good option by Phoebe's brother's daughter to come to Canada (Toronto no less!) but he refuses to take it even though there is nothing for him in England. I loved the actor who played his father, Billy Rice. He was really on point, old and grumpy and grumbling about "old times". He had the funniest silences and face expressions. Jean and Phoebe were plain, boring, and predictable. Frank was nice too, however, I feel that I liked him only because he had a nice voice and reminded me of the lead actor in War Horse (National Theatre). Unfortunately, the plot of the play was overall way too predictable. I could tell where it was going miles off. And the ending was anti-climatic. The stage design and light were great. I loved how easily the stage transitioned between the house and the music hall. You can see how the stage incorporates the items of both. The music was great too, but the plot was just way too boring. I sat through the whole thing but to be honest I would not recommend it unless you are a fan of Kenneth Branagh or John Osborne's work or both. For me it was curious but nothing beyond that.

Personal rating: 3 stars


Book review: "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde (play)

file-2 (Look at all those tabs!)

Ever since I watched the play on stage (broadcasted by Cineplex from West End with an amazing David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, I have been eager to read the play. I got it off Audible first and listened to it as an audio play, but it had different cast and even though I enjoyed it, the way they accentuated some lines irritated me. (I blame David Suchet for forever ruining any other performance of Lady Bracknell for me.) I wrote the review of the play here if you are interested to read it.

Finally I got my hands on the copy of the play. It was delivered to me by BookDepository in a different edition from what I ordered but I actually like it now.

The play is the epitome of Oscar Wilde's wit and satire aimed at high society. He laughs at their habits, stupidity, narrow-mindedness and obsession with status. Reading the play might be confusing for people who are not used to reading plays. Stage directions in first part are scarce and largely left to interpretation to the reader. Reading it now, though, after watching the play let me revisit it again and I once again fell in love with Wilde's language.

I tabbed all of my favourite lines in the play. I have 20 tabs in 54 pages. Basically every other page has a gem of a line in it.

My favourite moment in the play all involved Cecily as she is so simple minded that she says the most ridiculous things. My favourite line of hers was:

Miss Prism. Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days. Cecily. Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don't like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.

Another gem about literature:

Algernon. The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

Sometimes the way Oscar Wilde phrases things scares me as even over a hundred years later his words are still true.

Do yourself a favour and watch this on stage or at least listen to it as an audio play on Audible. I promise, you will spend 2 hours laughing non-stop.

Personal rating: 5 stars