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Review: THE HANDMAID'S TALE Haunts Edmonton

Review: THE HANDMAID'S TALE Haunts Edmonton

The Handmaid's Tale plays The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium until September 24.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has haunted readers around the world since its 1985 publication. Adapted as a film in 1990 and as an acclaimed ongoing Hulu series, the sinister dystopia comes alive in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's adaptation. A special co-production with Alberta Ballet, the show kicks off the latter company's 2022-2023 season at Edmonton's Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

The audience is plunged head-first into Gilead (formerly New England) the moment the curtain rises. Danger is palpable as members of The Eyes (Gilead's secret police force) terrorize the streets, ripping a young woman named Offred from her husband's arms. She is dragged to the wealthy household of a commander and his wife to join the ranks of the Handmaidens, a group of scarlet-clad women tasked with bearing the commander's children. From there, Offred's days are fraught with increasing violence, terror, and despair. It is only when she finds allies in her long-lost friend, Moira, and Nick, an illicit new love interest, that she summons the courage she needs to escape.

As Offred, Elizabeth Lamont delivers an emotive performance and maintains a quiet yet powerful stage presence. Lamont takes the audience on a moving journey as Offred evolves from a captive to a force to be reckoned with. Antagonists The Commander (Liam Caines) and his wife, Serena Joy (Jaimi Deleau) are fearsome as two of the Handmaids' myriad of oppressors. In one of the show's most memorable moments, Offred's lover, Nick (Stephen Azulay) joins Offred in a lyrical duet entitled Respite. Lamont and Azulay cut striking figures against the production's austere backdrop, creating an ethereal moment of unexpected peace.

Lila York's stunning choreography shines throughout the 95-minute ballet, as does the score composed by James MacMillan, Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, and others. The sweeping music brims with epic crescendos, weeping violins, and stark piano, amplifying the Handmaidens' emotional turmoil and ruthlessness of Gilead's oppressive regime. Despite the tremendous performances, score, and technical elements, the second act strays from a defined plotline. Though visually beautiful, this act's dance numbers do not advance the plot the way they did in Act 1. There is a heavy emphasis on characters' emotional states that dampens the harrowing story's urgency. Fans of the novel, film, and Hulu series may easily follow the ballet's second act while those unfamiliar with The Handmaid's Tale may be left in the dark. Despite this disconcerting second act, the production still brims with exceptional elements, rendering it a grim but compelling show of artistry.

The Handmaid's Tale plays The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium until September 24. It is recommended for viewers aged 12 and up.

Photo by David Cooper Workshops



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