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Review: THE SECRETS OF PRIMROSE SQUARE at The Gladstone

The powerful cast performances highlight the resilience of women against all odds.

Review: THE SECRETS OF PRIMROSE SQUARE at The Gladstone
Rachel Eugster and Isabelle Kabbouchi.
Photo by Victoria Salter.

Claudia Carroll's The Secrets of Primrose Square is the first show at The Gladstone since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered it and every other theatre in the city over two years ago. Her fifteenth novel, Carroll's The Secrets of Primrose Square, was first published in 2018 and this marks the debut of the author as a playwright. So how did the unassuming city of Ottawa manage to snag the global premiere of a bestselling author's play? The Secrets of Primrose Square was intended to be performed in the author's native Ireland pre-COVID; however, after the pandemic, this was no longer possible so - luckily for Ottawa - Director John P. Kelly swept in and scooped it up.

The stage is a relatively stripped-down set, separated into three slightly elevated areas where each of the characters spend a fair amount of time isolated from each other. Set above the stage are suspended windows. This has the effect of making the audience feel like voyeurs, peering in on the lives of the square's inhabitants as they go about their daily business. The play focuses on three Primrose Square residents: Susan (Robin Guy), Melissa (Isabelle Kabbouchi), and Jayne (Rachel Eugster). Susan spends her nights staring up at a young man's bedroom window, willing him to come to the window and cursing him if he does.

Susan's daughter Melissa, meanwhile, sits waiting and hoping her mother will come home, even though she knows Susan will have no energy or willpower to do the things she used to, like clean the house, do the laundry, make dinner, drive Melissa to sports practice, or just be a mom in any way, shape, or form. Nevertheless, Melissa craves affection and attention and with her dad, an army officer, posted overseas, she feels profound loneliness. On top of that, bullies at school threaten to send her into a wave of depression, even as she outwardly smiles and pretends to the world that everything is A-OK. Jayne, a widow, is excited to share some good news with her son and daughter-in-law, but instead of wishing her the best, they become interfering and threaten her newfound happiness.

Review: THE SECRETS OF PRIMROSE SQUARE at The Gladstone
Robin Guy. Photo by Victoria Salter.

Even though there are only three cast members, they provide both sides of various conversations they recount, so you get to know multiple characters as if they were actually present on stage. At first, I wasn't sure this was going to work, as I thought it might get confusing but, ultimately it did, and it helped to keep the focus entirely on Susan, Melissa, and Jayne.

The cast was simply incredible in the face of difficult subject matters like grief, depression, substance abuse, and self-harm. Guy stood out to me with an impassioned performance as the desperately flawed and agonized Susan. To see her character's evolution from the beginning to the end of the play was a treat.

Eugster was a delight as the nurturing, but slightly salty Jayne, who is just trying to live her best life. Eugster was given some of the wittiest lines and delivered them perfectly. Her little touches of comedy elicited laughter from the audience and lightened the mood, so it wasn't only doom and gloom in the theatre. Incredibly, this is Kabbouchi's first role outside of a school setting and she did a fabulous job with Melissa, especially considering that her drama training has been exclusively online because of the pandemic. I hope that she will be given more chances to shine and hone her talent.

Review: THE SECRETS OF PRIMROSE SQUARE at The Gladstone
Isabelle Kabbouchi and Robin Guy.
Photo by Victoria Salter.

I don't want to give away any of the secrets, as it is rewarding to watch the story slowly unfold on stage. Suffice it to say that the three women's stories become increasingly intertwined as events progress and the play becomes a testament to the strength and resilience of women, even when faced with seemingly impossible challenges. Susan's wonderful quote from Eleanor Roosevelt sums it up: "A woman is a bit like a teabag. You don't know how strong she is until dipped in hot water." Yes, indeed.

The Secrets of Primrose Square deals with some heavy material and the subject matter may be triggering for some audience members. That being said, the way that Carroll navigates these issues and still leaves the audience with an overarching positive message is what makes this play a rousing success. The Secrets of Primrose Square runs through June 11, 2022 at The Gladstone. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.




From This Author - Courtney Castelino


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