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The Little Years

Irene Poole as Kate and Bethany Jillard as Tanya. Photo by Cylla von TiedemannThe Little Years by John Mighton
Directed by Chris Abraham
Stratford Festival 2011
Studio Theatre
July 13 to September 24, 2011

Stratford, ON: Looking down at a pristine white floor with four large white spot-lit circles, I sensed that this was  going to be a unique theatrical experience. And indeed The Little Years is my favorite so far of the plays I have seen during this Toronto/Stratford trip.

Bethany Jillard as Young Kate. Photo by Cylla von TiedemannThis is only the second of John Mighton's plays that I have seen but there is an essence to his writing that resonates with me.  I first saw Half Life, his play about ageing, dementia and relationships between aged parent and child, in Toronto four years ago, and was so moved by it that I  saw it again in Vancouver, later that year.  I think the essence can be described as "humanity". His characters let you see into their souls so that their hurts and anguish become yours.

That's how I felt about Kate in The Little Years. Both Bethany Jillard as Young Kate, whose unusual intelligence was  not perceived by those who should have nurtured it, and Irene Poole as the adult older Kate, almost totally destroyed by "the system", touched my heart. And if there was a dry  eye at the end of the play, it certainly did not belong to any of the people sitting near me.

Yanna McIntosh brought Chick Reid as Alice, Yanna McIntosh as Grace.  Photo by Cylla von Tiedemannsensitivity and wisdom to the role of Grace, the one person who understood and valued Kate. Chick Reid was so effective in portraying a mother indoctrinated to believe that women can't do anything but be housewives, that I wanted to rush down the  steep Studio steps and shake her  for her blind acceptance of the teacher's judgment.

Through this story of how blind beliefs and prejudice  in authority figures can so profoundly damage a young life, Mighton shows how fragile the ego can be and how easily insecurity can displace the innate confidence of a young child. But equally a beautiful moment between Kate and her niece, Tanya, brought a note of optimism to the story.

Chris Abraham's sensitive direction was exquisitely supported by the design team of Julie Fox, Kimberley Purtell (Lighting) and Thomas Ryder Payne (Sound). Settings were delineated by circles or rectangles of light and minimal set pieces  such as a chair or a walker, evoking a garden, an office or a room in a psychiatric or retirement home. 

Overall I loved this play and it's a "don't miss it" pick for me.

For tickets and on-line information check the Stratford Festival website.