Arts Club Theatre Company

Griffin and Sabine

by Nick Bantock

Director James Fagan Tait Dramaturge Rachel Ditor Composer/Music Direction Joelysa Pankanea Set Design Bryan Pollack Lighting Marsha Sibthorpe Costumes Barbara Clayden

Dates 5 October - 4 November, 2006 Venue Granville Island Stage Reviewer John Jane

Colin Legge & Lois Anderson
In a brief, pre-performance conversation with Nick Bantock, the author confessed to feeling “extremely nervous” about the world premiere of Griffin and Sabin -- as well he might. Based on a double trilogy (that’s six volumes for the mathematically challenged), it relates an intriguing exchange between Griffin Moss, an artist living a lonely and cautious existence in London, England, and Sabine Strohem, a postage stamp designer from the exotic Sicomon Islands. Their epistolary romance is chronicled only in the form of exchanged letters and postcards. In the wrong hands, this could easily end up a mess.

Unfortunately, in director, James Fagan Tait, it was in the wrong hands. It started well enough, with Griffin (Colin Legge) and Sabine (Lois Anderson) sharing Bryan Pollack well-designed, minimalist stage that was subtly divided in the centre to symbolize the central characters' physical separation. While the first act may have suffered from Legge’s hurried performance it was at least fathomable and the audience were given some latitude to consider whether Sabine was real or a figment of Griffin's imagination.

It was in the second act that this stage production went off the rails. As the story line switched to a parallel relationship between Matthew Sedon, an archaeologist working in Alexandria and Isabella de Reims, a Parisian student, Tait’s non-linear, out of kilter direction became ever more confusing. When the pair struggle to make sense of their feelings in an unfamiliar world, the audience struggled to make sense of the storytelling. Tim Matheson’s projections of scanned images of Bantock's gorgeous illustrations were eye-catching, but added little to explain a thin narrative.

It may have worked better if this production had been less ambitious and focused only on fleshing out the author's first trilogy, which, even on its own, is much more than another whimsical story about star-crossed lovers.

I really wanted Griffin and Sabine to be a success. I like Nick Bantock and admire his work as a writer and artist. I would like to think that the Arts Club Theatre presentation is a work in progress. After all, this unique work has already been adapted successfully in other media forms. British musician Peter Gabriel produced an excellent CD-ROM version for Real World Multimedia entitled Ceremony of Innocence that had no less than Isabella Rossellini providing the voice of Sabine.

Peter Gabriel got it right. James Fagan Tait and the Arts Club Theatre Company got it wrong.

© 2006 John Jane