Good Canary

Set in New York, Jack, following rave reviews for his first novel, is on the verge of signing a multi-million-dollar deal with a leading publisher. With his wife Annie struggling with addiction and mental illness, will she cope with the public scrutiny that comes with success?

The English-language premiere of Good Canary by Zach Helm, previously staged in France and Mexico, John Malkovich brings sharp humour, playful staging and a dreamlike edge. Good Canary clearly demonstrates Malkovich’s long-standing acquaintance with theatre.

Zach Helm tackles mental illness, addiction, child abuse, pornography, misogyny (particularly in publishing), the relationship between personal experience and literature, between exposure and exploitation, creativity and self-destruction — all vital topics. Unfortunately, he lacks time to explore them all fully, causing the plot twist, which are meant to alter our perspective on all these issues, cannot be properly validated.

A series of videos play across the back of the stage to signify each place. Outside coffee shop with people wandering the  street, a rooftop party with the glittering city lights, the windows shrink and expand; pills cascade from the sky; florescent oranges and lime greens fade to blackness.  The stage was kept mainly empty aside for moments when Annie’s paranoia heightened in which she proceeded to litter the stage with boxes, paper, shoes, empty bottles, pills and books. Only to be swept away by Jack as he cared for and provided for her.

Harry Lloyd’s Jack is grounded, sensitive, slow burn to anger yet ambitious. Ilan Goodman as an nervous drug dealer and Steve John Shepherd as Jack’s flashy but often also seedy editor Charlie provide strong supporting characters.

It is, however, Freya Mavor’s Annie that stays etched in the memory after the curtain comes down. Her desperate yearning to be loved and self-destructiveness hangs like a bleak, impenetrable cloud over every scene. Natural, loose-limbed, seemingly spontaneous, fiercely intelligent and evidently sick, Mavor is extraordinary.

Playwright: Zach Helm
Director: John Malkovich
Associate Director: Hannah Price
Designer: Pierre-Francois Limbosch
Lighting Design: Malcolm Rippeth
Sound Design: Jon Nicholls
Composer: Nicholas Errera
Projection Advisor: Tim Bird
Cast: Freya Mavor, Harry Lloyd, Ilan Goodman, Simon Wilson, Steve John Shepherd, Sally Rodgers, Michael Simkins

Photo: Mark Douet


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