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Helen Lawrence

76
Critics
75
19 reviews
Members
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Visual artist Stan Douglas and screenwriter Chris Haddock take film noir to high-tech heights in this 2015 Next Wave Festival offering, placing their actors in a cinematic landscape of seedy hotels and skid-row streets.

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It's Vancouver, 1948. and a slew of hardboiled bookies, crooked cops, and an enigmatic blond named Helen are all trying to tame the derelict city and their pasts by whatever boozy, pill-popping means necessary. Banter crackles and a killer eludes in this two-toned world of sketchy politics and simmering racial tensions. raising the femme fatale and fedora to new technological heights. Actors perform in front of blue screens as camera-controlled software inserts them into a meticulous landscape of seedy hotels and skid-row streets—projected as a completed film on stage.

 

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Reviews (19)

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75
Avg Score

95
The Huffington Post

"'Helen Lawrence,' a theater-meets-cinema multimedia production, part of BAM's Next Wave Festival, is not to be missed. The clever, ambitious effort, the brainchild of Canadian Stage, is hypnotic to watch...The storytelling is sharp, but it's the double-vision trick that ups the artistic ante." Full Review

90
The Globe and Mail

for a previous production "What really has lifted 'Helen Lawrence' up since its Vancouver premiere is that its dozen actors have developed into a real ensemble. Before, several were giving stagy performances, while others kept it small and filmic, but now they’re all on the same wavelength...Haddock’s plot can be complicated – and Douglas’s virtual world takes time to wrap your brain around. They ask a lot on the part of an audience – but it’s more than ever worth the effort to enter into the lucid dream of 'Helen Law... Full Review

75
The Globe and Mail

for a previous production "The scenes that work best allow us to see both mediums at work, rather than one in service of the other...For 'Helen Lawrence' to rise above the level of the truly impressive novelty, the staging needs more of these moments where the theatrical and filmic elements are in dialogue. At that point, you’ll have a piece of live art sure to completely knock the socks off the performance world." Full Review

45
The Scotsman

for a previous production "Flashy but flawed...The show is a technically impressive fusion of live performance and projected images...So far so clever, but it’s as if Douglas developed the technique then went in search of a story to justify it...The production leaves us between two stools. As a piece of theatre, it offers little human insight or thematic exploration, still less any sense of being in the same room as the actors – it’s just a series of events, snappily told but without depth or purpose. As a piece of fi... Full Review

40
The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production "Perhaps you're a fan of the theatre. What you like is the moment-by-moment thrill of seeing actors perform and a story unfolding in your imagination. Or maybe you're more of a movie buff. You prefer to be immersed in a cinematic dream. Either way, you'll be frustrated by 'Helen Lawrence', a multimedia hybrid from Canadian Stage that is expensive, hollow and neither one thing nor the other...'Helen Lawrence' is too flimsy to satisfy as either theatre or film." Full Review

45
Stage Door

for a previous production "It’s been set up as a film noir but the several subplots keep us wondering what connection, if any, they have to the main plot since none of them move it forward. 'Helen Lawrence' as a story is unsatisfying not just because it lacks any of the tension or suspense one associates with its chosen genre, but also because Haddock simply casts out the subplots when they have served his purpose of delaying the ending...Elizabethan playwrights played on empty stages since they trusted their words an... Full Review

75
The Toronto Star

for a previous production "Sleek, stylish and entertaining...This intriguing piece of film-noir-meets-theatre promises more than it delivers and tends to confuse muddle with mystery...This is a play worth going to see, as long as you go for the right reasons...Where Haddock lets us down, however, is his plot. It’s way too complicated. If you look at all the classic noir films, they kept their cast lists small and manageable. Haddock’s dozen misfits are at least four too many. In a 90-minute show you can barely learn t... Full Review

95
Post City Toronto

for a previous production "The engaging story, convincing characters, and Haddock’s crisp dialogue combine with committed and nuanced performances provide constant momentum...This avant-garde nostalgia piece is the bacon-chocolate-chip cookie of theatre. Not all who love film and theatre will appreciate this media mashup, but some may see it as the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Full Review

65
The Vancouver Sun

for a previous production "For a play that struggles so hard to work on multiple levels, 'Helen Lawrence' feels surprisingly flat, though it might actually look better from the balcony than the floor...In the end, 'Helen Lawrence' is an admirable attempt at resurrecting a bygone era while re-envisioning the intersection between live theatre and film, but its many compelling parts do not always coalesce into a satisfying whole." Full Review

40
Financial Times (UK)

for a previous production "We never truly care about these characters as they are always subordinate the main star: the world they inhabit, which is realised in the mix of live filming and CGI scenery. And despite our awareness that everything is happening live, 'Helen Lawrence' sacrifices the crucial immediacy of theatre to this technical feat. That said, it won’t satisfy film buffs either: never quite achieving the dark, lingering undertones of film noir." Full Review

75
The Scene Into

for a previous production "The script wasn’t as compelling as the rest of the experience was for me. I lost interest about an hour into the ninety-minute piece. The last half seemed to lag and if it wasn’t for the visual artistry of the piece, I would not have continued to be engaged...The entire cast produced solid performances with the female characters really taking center stage... Although I didn’t entirely love the script, visually this piece is quite a feat and will likely keep you captivated." Full Review

45
BroadwayWorld

for a previous production "An entertaining, multi-media presentation hampered by a thin script...During the first five minutes, you tend to be overwhelmed by the show's live action onstage enhanced by its larger-than-life, black-and-white close-up projection on a scrim in front of the actors. But the technical ingenuity shortly wears off, and you're left with a complex plot, heavy on exposition and light on action and tension...The complex script does not have the rising action necessary to create the tension setting ... Full Review

90
Review Vancouver

for a previous production "In 'Helen Lawrence,' suspense is everywhere—in each close-up, every filmed nuance, among the many image-laden shadows, behind the cameras alongside myriad unspoken glances; but above all, within and between every gritty line of its resonant script...'Helen Lawrence' is equal parts live theatre and live cinema performed in a postmodern praxis of Marshall McLuhan’s axiom that the medium is the message...There is not a false note about any of these performances...They are highly skilled profess... Full Review

90
Mooney On Theatre

for a previous production "The ensemble of 'Helen Lawrence' is consistently strong and capable of pulling off the slightly campy performances required of a noir show...When I first read about 'Helen Lawrence' I was fascinated but a bit skeptical as to whether they could convincingly pull off such a complex technical concept in a way that didn’t seem artificial or cheesy but in the end I was wowed. Despite a few problems with the pacing, the execution is incredibly sleek and the results are eye-popping." Full Review

80
The Charlebois-Post Canada

for a previous production "The story is absorbing and multi-layered, but the play has a large number of characters and sub-plots for a relatively short piece. The different stories end up spread quite thinly, and at times the play races forward leaving the facts a bit unclear. But the plot isn’t really the main point of this production. The setting is captivating as it’s a rarely depicted but pivotal time and place in Vancouver’s history. And most of all, this production is about experiencing a new way to watch a stor... Full Review

70
Vancouver Presents

for a previous production "While visually stunning and a show that can be admired for its technical aspects, it fails to fully draw us into its story...While technically dazzling, the process does becomes distracting as our attention is drawn back and forth between the live action on stage, the film on the giant screen, and even the actors who are operating the cameras...Pushing the boundaries of what we think of as theatre, 'Helen Lawrence' is a visual feast. I only wish there was as much to consume from its story." Full Review

70
The Province

for a previous production "All the acting in this show is exceptional...But technology ultimately trumps liveness. The actors’ real bodies are separated from us by a screen, even if it’s semi-transparent, and they perform far upstage so we only ever see them at a distance. Their images are foregrounded, much larger than their living bodies. The intimate visual connection with the actor’s body that live theatre affords us is broken, along with the strong emotional bond that connection provides." Full Review

40
The Georgia Straight

for a previous production "'Helen Lawrence' is empty. And we’re not talking so much about the existential void as about emotional and aesthetic hollowness...For brief moments—usually at times of emotional shock—the film disappears and we’re thrust into the concreteness of the actors’ bodies on the blue stage. These holidays in physicality never last long enough, though. In the theatre, the sustained separation from the players feels like oxygen deprivation...'Helen Lawrence', on the other hand, suffocates the theatre ... Full Review

70
Lords of Dogwood

for a previous production "'Helen Lawrence' as a standard piece of theatre would have stood on its own, being a fairly temperamental and complex piece that is both interesting as a local patchwork and also taps well into the noir genre it stems from...Much of 'Helen Lawrence‘s' production values simultaneously take away from the piece...At times, watching both of the layers is both straining on the eye and also fairly one-note...When you’re pushing the envelope and the whole notion of what theatre can potentially be i... Full Review

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