Vancouver Theatre: Push Festival 2014. Seeds
Seeds by Annabel Soutar
Directed by Chris Abraham
A Port Parole Production
PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Theatre at UBC
Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC
Jan 22-26 th, 2014
Vancouver, BC: I must confess that as I drove out to UBC through a thick eerie fog to see Seeds, I was gearing myself up for the usual rant against big business and corporations. But what a surprise. This docu-theatre piece of verbatim theatre ("where every word spoken onstage is a verbatim quote from court transcripts and interviews") is a fascinating, provocative and compelling presentation of a complex and multi-faceted issue.
Based on the legal conflict between Saskatchewan canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser and Monsanto Corporation, this play raises issues ranging from farmers' rights to rights of patent enforcement; from agricultural science - the dispersal of seeds in nature, the risk/benefit of genetically modified organisms; the fine line of being wined and dined, financial dependency on research grant funding or product access for sale, to bribes; and whose truth is reality.
Other than Eric Peterson who plays Schmeiser, and Liisa Repo-Martell who for most of the time plays Annabel, the playwright, the cast of Bruce Dinsmore, Mariah Inger, Alex Ivanovici, Tanja Jacobs and Cary Lawrence played multiple roles, switching from one character to another with incredible facility.
To give the audience an idea of what verbatim theatre is about, random members of the audience were interviewed as part of the opening to the show. Another interesting perspective to see how articulate - or not - people can be when put on the spot!
The metatheatricality of the writing and directing is cleverly handled. Annabel explains that we are walking through her process of discovery and digging out the underlying aspects of the story while the staging is like a science experiment. Keeping the lights up on stage throughout most of the play and the breaking of the fourth wall draws the audience into the experiment, making us question our own beliefs and involvement in the issues. The integration of science, law and the human "kitchen sink" drama, inhabiting the same space under the focus of the omnipresent video cameras, draws us in to the story without proscribing the "right" answers. On the contrary the frame of the science experiment actually sets this up to ask questions but not necessarily answer them.
Overall I really liked this work a lot and left the theatre with my head buzzing with conflicting emotions, and a desire to find out more for myself about many of the issues raised. For me this is what great theatre is about. I wish it had a longer run in Vancouver.