Thu 14th – Sat 23rd November 2013


emily quinn

at 20:22 on 21st Nov 2013



On Tuesday night in the Alma Tavern I experienced the fantastic play that is Samuel Taylor’s ‘Canis’. ‘Canis’ is a tersely written “slice of life”, following the lives of three characters - Frank, Mel, and Sophie - and their interactions with each other. The piece is wonderfully written, chillingly tense and complex. Perhaps the quality of ‘Canis’ is emphasised by the dismal ten minute short that goes before it - ‘Lavender Pye’. Like Canis, Lavender Pye only has three characters, but unfortunately the play is so short that the characters are largely two-dimensional, and the problems in the play are solved before they ever fully become realised. This wasn't helped by the lack lustre performance from the actress playing the young student. It appeared that she has never even encountered a student face to face, let alone held a conversation with them. Her reaction to the news (Spoiler alert) that she has a half -brother is, understandably, betrayal, but is acted in such an over-the-top and petulant manner that it seems more suited to a toddler being told they have to go to bed. Hence, in contrast to this, Canis appears exponentially more spectacular.

The tiny and sparsely furnished stage is ingeniously manipulated with appropriate sound and lighting transforming the space into a plethora of urban scenes, both indoor and outdoor. The storyline of Canis is convoluted as we are gradually made aware certain aspects and actions of the characters that were not previously visible. There are no grandiose revelations in Canis, instead the audience are left to piece together the true story. This is particularly evident through the character Sophie, who the audience slowly realise is not quite who she says she is. However, Sophie herself always adheres to the identity she presents. In the “interrogation” scenes when Sophie is alone on the stage, she never changes her narrative - the audience only discover her deception through inferring what questions she is asked, and from her denials of them.

The play focuses on ordinary people, zeros in the system that society finds it comforting to ignore- the unemployed and destitute, the criminals, and the mentally ill - whilst considering the consequences of this total abandonment. Taylor explores the concept of the family, investigating what constitutes a family and the roles of its members. The play also considers how easy it is to find the negatives in a “unconventional” family unit such as Mel and Frank’s which Sophie take issue with, consequently attempting to “fix” the situation.

However, the end of ‘Canis’ includes a discussion of a tribe of Native Americans, which Mel and Frank use to vocalise the mutual protection and solidarity that underlies every family unit, no matter how dysfunctional, irregardless of public opinion. Taylor’s ‘Canis’ ends on an oddly hopeful and optimistic note, despite, or perhaps because of, the destruction and turmoil of the play.


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