All aboards

Kate Watson looks back on the more memorable productions and performances in local theatre in 2006.

You’ve got to love Halifax. It’s a little city with a big arts community and an abundance of great live theatre. In the past year, there have been some outstanding professional shows, some unforgettable community theatre and some small productions mounted with low budgets and high passions. Here are some of the most memorable happenings in Halifax’s theatre scene in 2006:

Most—and least—uplifting Christmas shows: Neptune Theatre’s 2005/06 production of The Sound of Music suffused even jaded audiences with the joyful spirit of the holiday season. This year’s production of Oliver! has youngsters dreaming of orphanages and murders, although this hasn’t seemed to have affected ticket sales.

Most ambitious company: Theatre de Boheme undertakes difficult works on shoe-string budgets. It uses unusual spaces and large casts. The results can be uneven (1984), but are always thought-provoking. The recent production of Jean Genet’s The Balcony deserves to be remounted in a more reliable venue, without last-minute cast changes.

Biggest envelope pusher: Zuppa Circus does things that haven’t been done before. Its Open Theatre Kitchen: It All Looks Different in the Dark was weird, wonderful, entertaining and enigmatic. It’s exciting to have such an innovative company in the city. Watch for their new production, Jerome, in fall 2007.

Most able to perform under adverse circumstances: Longhorn beetles, hurricanes, funding shortages and rainy summers are just some of the challenges that have plagued Shakespeare by the Sea. This summer’s presentations of As You Like It and The Wizard of Uh-Oz were entertaining and ably acted, as usual. Cross your fingers that the company will soldier on into 2007.

Biggest bang for the buck: Dartmouth Players’ production of Nunsense was good fun well done, and an amazing value at $12 per ticket. The runner-up would have to be Theatre Arts Guild’s magical production of Enchanted April.

Best new space: The Space Theatre (or Studio TNS) on Agricola offers an intimate atmosphere at an affordable price. It was transformed into an attic for a funny and frightening trip down memory lane in last spring’s The Donahue Sisters, and into a seedy motel for a fabulous production of Fool for Love.

Awards of Merritt: Fiona Reid and Nigel Bennett are shoe-ins for Merritt nominations for their performances in Neptune’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The play itself was one of the most haunting productions all year, joining Eastern Front’s Corvette Crossing and Neptune’s Tuesdays with Morrie as some of 2006’s must-see plays.

Rising star: Local actor Kristin Bell had a red-letter year with stellar performances in A Few Good Men, This is How it Goes and The Maids (and in the CBC television series North/South). Two thousand seven will find her seeking work in Toronto.

Other Notable Happenings: Congratulations were in order for Cape Breton playwright Daniel MacIvor, who won a Governor General’s Literary Award for I Still Love You.

The theatre community was saddened by the death of acclaimed actor and founding member of Neptune Theatre David Renton in May.

The future looks bright for Wolfville’s Atlantic Theatre Festival. After a period of financial instability, it reopened with a successful production of Noises Off, and has finally cleared its debt with Acadia University.

Citizens of HRM were offered a smorgasbord of works in progress by both the On the Waterfront and Atlantic Fringe Festivals.

As the New Year dawns, here’s hoping that it will offer as many exciting theatre experiences as the last!