The houses that line Aberdeen Avenue are small, pretty in an unassuming and sleepy kind of way, and old—mostly dating back to the boom years following the Second World War. They’re far from Peterborough’s oldest houses, but they are old when compared to the people who now occupy them. The houses were there long before most of the people moved into them, and they will be there after they are gone. They are each borrow spaces, still pregnant with the memories and stories that grew there before their current residents.
“This feels like an open house,” commented my friend as we wandered through 120 Aberdeen Avenue, waiting for the play to start—and indeed it did have some of that sense of voyeuristic invasion. We walked in rooms that weren’t ours, gazed at photos of strangers, thumbed through mysteriously specific books that had been laid out on tables, and dodged the house’s two intriguing inhabitants. They were dressed in brightly coloured sashes, balancing books on their heads, muttering, and leaving behind them a trail of orange peels. It felt intimate, odd, and private; just like someone else’s private rituals always do—only more so.
And Then She Ate Me is a play from the Ring O’ Rosie Theatre Collective, a relatively new group who are brand-new to Peterborough. The group, including director Anne White and actors Lillian Ross-Millard and Miranda Jones, created the show collectively, and specifically to be performed in this private home on Aberdeen, far apart from the regular downtown hub of Peterborough’s arts scene.
Traditional theatre has a very clear boundary—a physical separation in space, a raised stage, sometimes a proscenium arch—that keeps the play apart from the people watching it. And Then She Ate Me takes place all around its audience, and makes its audience complicit in its creation. We are asked to move around on a guided tour of the house, and then, as the play goes on, we are asked to ‘buy in’ more and more. The play been described as a “multi-sensory experience,” and indeed it is. We are asked to voice our opinions, we are offered food, we are invited to sit by a roaring fireplace and take in its warmth. And could we really refuse? We are guests, after all.
(It’s worth noting that, the night I went, the crowd mostly consisted of artsy types who joined in enthusiastically and creatively. A different night with a different, more cynical or reserved set of people, could lead to a totally different experience of the play.)
I should say: it’s always a challenge, in writing a review of something with a story, to know exactly how much to reveal, and how much would spoil the experience. Pity the poor film critic in 1999 who had to write 800 words about the lonely ghosts of The Sixth Sense, without revealing that the loneliest ghost was the movie’s main character.
Even though And Then She Ate Me is already part-way through its run, and is almost sold out, I still feel a responsibility to leave much of the play as mystery. To lay it all out would feel like a violation, of the intimate sense of discovery of the play, and of the particular experience I shared with 16 or so other audience members.
I will say this: And Then She Ate Me follows two characters (Ross-Millard and Jones) as they take a journey through their grandmother’s house and into their memories of her, and speak at length about birds, flowers, and the joys of the cucumber. The pair are a delightful contrast—Ross-Millard, tall, serious, and imposing; and Jones, short and energetic, with a wide smile and wild eyes—and they are forever vying for the attentions of their grandmother (and also the audience), with a series of increasingly theatrical performances and competitions.
The play is at times haunting, at times tragic, at times whimsical, and forever venturing into increasingly surreal and expressionistic territory. But more than anything, it’s simply different, a bold break with tradition and an exciting venture into a very different mode of the theatre. The Ring O’ Rosie Theatre Collective have made something strange and beautiful and utterly engrossing, and I’m very excited to see what they make next.
And Then She Ate Me runs March 2 to 8 at 120 Aberdeen Avenue (more info).
Photos courtesy the Ring O’ Rosie Theatre Collective.