Devoid of snowmen, reindeer, or carols, Angel Square is not an obvious Christmas play. Set in 1940s Ottawa, it takes place over one winter when young Tommy finds himself following in the footsteps of his favourite radio show detective, The Shadow. A brutally anti-Semitic beating has taken place in sleepy Lowertown and since his best friend’s dad was the victim, Tommy is determined to find the culprit. Along the way, we meet his family, a motley crew of teachers, his gang of multicultural friends, the love of his life, and more.
This diverse and energetic character work by Mary Ellis, Robert Marinier, and Kristina Watt is what makes the show so fun to watch. It was initially weird to see grown-ups playing school children but I quickly came to love Tommy’s French-Canadian and Irish-Canadian besties. Watt’s portrayal of Tommy’s sister was absolutely lovely, while Marinier’s depiction of a quick-tempered English teacher was hilarious. Bruce Spinney noticeably flubbed a few lines throughout the show but made a charming, loveable, utterly believable Tommy nonetheless.
The only part of this show I wasn’t keen on was the set: a gorgeous radio backdrop that served as a constant reminder of Tommy’s fantasy life and heroes. To me, it signalled that Tommy was a child whose decisions revolved around the radio but this was definitely not the case: though Tommy plays with emulating ‘The Shadow’, he is clearly courageous in his own right. I felt that the radio show was a secondary theme not deserving of such a prominent display. That said, the use of projections, shadow-puppetry, and doorways through the radio’s “grills” was an ingenious use of the set.
Having read – and loved – Angel Square as a child, I can attest to this being a faithful adaptation of Brian Doyle’s classic. Two of my favourite aspects of the book were how it let the city of the past come alive in my imagination, and how beautifully Doyle captured the world of childhood in his narrative style. Janet Irwin’s take on this tale really lets these elements shine through without diminishing the heartfelt message that ties the whole thing together. When Tommy makes his last minute prayer for a world of peace – where nobody gets beat up, teased, or hurt because of their differences – we can really see why this is a true holiday treasure.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to know what you think. Does the city evoked in Angel Square ring true to your memories of 1940s Ottawa? How does this show compare to Up to Low, another recent Irwin adaptation of a Brian Doyle tale? Did this show help you feel the holiday spirit?Join the discussion in the comments below.
Angel Square is presented by the Great Canadian Theatre Company. It runs now through December 20th at The GCTC. Visit their online box office for show times and how to buy tickets.