Arts & CultureCampus & City

Play Review: The Cat and the Canary

With a stellar cast and complex choreography, 'The Cat and the Canary’ is a hilarious murder mystery that makes full-use of every second.

If the thought of yet another story about a haunted mansion at midnight makes you yawn, The Cat and the Canary, written and directed by Lauren Tamke, will jolt you wide-awake with a scream.

Presented by the Paper Crown Theatre from February 13 – 18, each night had a different ending. The theatre’s first production, the adaptation was of John Willard’s renowned 1922 play. Tamke’s adaptation is delightfully atmospheric and eccentric — the jokes never get old.

The play centers around the distant relatives of Old Cyrus West. Eighty years after his death, they have gathered in his decrepit mansion, eager to attend the reading of his will. However, the night takes on a frightful turn when they learn that a patient has escaped the local insane asylum. The relatives begin to question their sanity, especially after Old West’s lawyer, Roberta Crosby (Anglia Redding), is found dead.

Harry Blythe (Christoff Lundgren), Charlie Wilder (James Ostime), and Paul Jones (Patrick Maloney) all vie for the affections of the endlessly sweet, charming Annabelle West (Maggie Salopek), the named heir. Themes of unrequited love and rivalry complement the plot. Meanwhile, absent-minded Cicily Young (Katrina Kunkel) and Susan Sillsby (Samantha Beck) contrast each other with wildly different personalities. 

The costumes suit each character to the dot. For example, Susan’s dark, feathered dress shows off her unique flavour of confidence. In addition, Tamke is unrecognizable as the elderly, hunched-over housekeeper, Miss Hattie. 

The ghosts (Franco Correa, Erika Holba, Wylee Johnston, and Dave McKay) have few lines in the play, yet they captured my attention without needing to say a word. They resemble true faces of the past. Even though they are obviously meant to be funny, it never feels as though they are trying to be. Their reactions and expressions are effortlessly natural. There is great power to be found in their subtlety. I was forever leaning forward in my seat trying not to miss the tiny details. McKay, presumably the ghost of Old West, instills a commanding presence over the stage with his cunning smiles. 

The casting made for half of the play’s success. The actors do far more than simply recite scripts — their body language is always purposeful, and they give their all whether or not they are in the spotlight. The melodrama does not take away from the believability, either. Despite the use of typical character tropes, nobody struck me as stereotypical. The actors are perfectly in sync with each other, to the extent that it feels as though they have known each other for years. 

The choreography of the fights and stunts is fearless. How often the play relied on exact timing surprised me, and impressed me by how flawlessly they executed it. Harry falls to the ground multiple times with loud bangs, only to get back up again. Meanwhile, when it comes to screaming, the women give it their all.

Even when I expected a sudden loud noise, the play still managed to surprise me. Nobody was afraid of being loud or abrupt.  In fact, The Cat and the Canary startled me more times than the vast majority of horror movies that I’ve watched, despite it not being a horror play.  

Supported by dim, targeted lighting, the mood is eerie, which truly makes the stage feel haunted. The set uses torn white sheets as the wall, and also features plenty of spooky antiques. Overall, the atmosphere is wonderfully whimsical. 

The only scene that confused me was at the very beginning, when the ghosts were walking around and chatting. I couldn’t hear what they were saying behind the loud music, which was disappointing. I suspect that anyone who wasn’t sitting in the very first row was out-of-luck. Seemingly done for effect and never repeated, it was an odd start for such a meticulous play. 

When the play ended, some audience members cheered so vigorously you would think they were at a football game. They had good reason to. The running gags never got boring and the plot never became predictable, largely thanks to the timing and tact of the script. 

All in all, the play reminded me of the iconic 80’s British sitcom, ‘Allo ‘Allo. It shared the show’s exaggerated humour and well-developed, charismatic characters.

Natalia Gala

Natalia is a first-year student majoring in conservation biology. Her favourite pastime is exploring other planets by writing dystopian science fiction. When not inventing alien civilizations, she’s learning languages or running.

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