Review – Backbone Collective’s Spine at Havana Theatre

Review by Britt MacLeod

There is nothing more terrifying than a teenager with something to say.” Or, you might add… than a feisty, worldly-wise pensioner.

This is an excellent production of a well-crafted and topical contemporary play and you should get tickets immediately.

You know when you love someone so much that even their little idiosyncrasies and ‘flaws’ seem few, and those that remain just make you love them more? That is what this show was for me. There was a moment when a minor costuming mishap made the sole actor—the very gifted and beguiling Kate Besworth crack a bit, but having inhabited her characters so effectively and having built such a strong relationship with her audience, this moment actually served to enhance the audience’s investment rather than threaten to weaken it. Her slight laughter was sparked by said mishap but was incorporated into the performance and delivered by Amy, the scrappy adolescent Londoner that delivers most of the engaging narrative of Spine. There were moments when the dialects of this character and the aforementioned pensioner, Glenda, seemed to regionally-oscillate, but frankly, while I did notice sometimes, I simply didn’t care. Again, the strength and charisma of the acting performance and the world that Director, Wendy Bollard and the collaborators of Backbone Collective had created won.

The world that was created was one that felt dramaturgically cohesive and fun. Ariel Slack’s set design is a smile-inducing layering of stacked up and spilled over books and the flutters of their pages which extend to the walls of the otherwise minimalist playing space. An exciting feature of the production is that these books have been made to function as an actual lending library—when you go to see the show, you may *take a book/leave a book*. I felt that this feature could have been emphasized more in the promo and pre-show experience of this production. The lighting and sound design, offered by Celeste English and Nico Dicecco, respectively, supported each other and the story’s emotional twists and turns well.

Importantly, the play, which is an award-winning piece by British playwright, Clara Brennan, feels especially relevant for our world right now. The piece is thematically-dense, touching on the importance and complications of community-, political- and social-engagement, particularly by youth, intergenerational friendship, and the threat to public libraries by funding cuts and waning appreciation, and the way that books (and libraries) can be “radical.” See Spine, a show staged at one of the best independent theatre spaces in the city that is (not without its small and few flaws but is nevertheless) thought-provoking and inspiring, not just for affect, but for action.

Spine by Clara Brennan, presented by Backbone Collective and Peninsula Productions plays January 29-February 8 (with shows Tuesday to Saturday) at the Havana Theatre at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $10-20 and available through Showpass or through links on the Facebook event: