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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Nothing Like a Whorehouse on Fire to Warm You Up!

Twilla MacLeod and Sue Huff in The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, Northern Light Theatre. 
Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

This past weekend I ventured back out for another theatre experience - this time I visited the Varscona Theatre to see Northern Light Theatre's production of The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921. Inspired by true events in Big Valley, Alberta the play (by Linda Wood Edwards) speculates on a friendship of sorts between Mrs. Hastings, the Madam of the Whorehouse (played with sparkling acidity by Sue Huff) and Mrs. Smith, a local woman who runs a home for unwed mothers (portrayed with delicate curiosity by Twilla MacLeod). I haven't seen either of the two actresses onstage before but they are terrific foils for each other (well, I think I saw Huff in a directing project at U of A over 30 years ago when we both were students there - I can't remember what - but I do remember being a little in awe of this tiny person with the larger than life personality onstage). The story tells of the development of their unlikely friendship and the ultimate betrayal and disappointment that the friendship wasn't enough. It also spoke to the inequity of their social situations and the advantages that each have. There's no doubt in my mind which of the two women is a true survivor, but I know that both of them employ very different strategies to do so, and although their world views appeared to get closer together, we see that self-preservation gets in the way. Director Trevor Schmidt has shaped a give and take between the two contrasting actors that is believable and hopeful, but then ultimately foiled, and has done so in a way that I shared in the inevitable disappointment.

I'd admired the set (Production Designer - Alison Yanota) before I was even in the theatre as I had seen a photo online. It's even more lovely in person - atmospheric and distressed - much like the relationship between the characters onstage. The costumes further accentuate the contrast between the two women and as a whole - one fiery and one cool - and so the play is a visual treat. Oh, and I loved the huge moon that hangs above the house! 

It's a solid, crackling show, just over an hour, that showcases the best of Edmonton's theatre community - from playwright to actors to designers and director!

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921 runs to November 28th. Tickets must be purchased in advance and you can buy them here. 

COVID Rating A+: NLT is selling a reduced capacity house which allowed audiences members to socially distance. Masks are required inside the theatre and sanitizer is provided at entrances. 

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