Victorian era finds home at Ryerson Theatre School

In Arts & Life /

By Isabelle Docto

The Ryerson Theatre School travels back to the 1840s to bring a Charles Dickens tale to life in their production The Classics.

Playwright Michael Hollingsworth adapted Dickens’ novel Martin Chuzzlewit, which takes place in England and America. It tells the story of rich Martin Chuzzlewit Sr. who falls ill and has to decide who the heir to his wealth will be.

Under the guidance of Cynthia Ashperger, the producer and director, the cast of third-year actors took on 12 weeks of preparation for the play by studying the history, gestures, accents and dance of the Victorian era.

“[The characters] are so out of this world, so I think we’ve done a really great job of bringing them to life because we worked so hard on characterization,” said Megan Webster, who plays Mercy Pecksniff.

Chuzzlewit’s eccentric relatives become rivals as they compete for his will. His grandson, young Martin Chuzzlewit is one of the possible heirs, but has his own dilemma of choosing between love and fortune. Meanwhile, his nephew Jonas Chuzzlewit gets involved with a crowd of crooks, which ups the competition for the will.

The play involves love, greed, and betrayal and manages to convey these heave themes with dark humor.

“It’s quite beautiful at times and quite brutal at times, but very satirical,” said Dylan Brenton, who plays Jonas Chuzzlewit. “I think [the audience] will really enjoy they message and moral that the show deals with, even if it was set in 1844.”

Peggy Shannon, chair of the Ryerson Theatre School, says the themes of the play are relatable to people in all walks of life.

“It’s a great story of trying to make things right in a family that sometimes takes a long time to sort out and so I think it’s very universal,” she said.

The period has 40 colorful characters, 67 scenes and runs for three hours.

Jacqueline Prewer, the stage manager, says that this brought some difficulties in putting the play together.

“It was hard to figure out how each story line fit in to each other and we also double-cast people a lot,” she said. “But it’s really funny and not hard to understand or follow.”

Ashperger isn’t able to oversee the play on its showings due to a family emergency, so Shannon is standing in for her.

Shannon says that despite the unfortunate turn of events, the actors and crew continue to work hard.

“This year of actors are really professional and they see this as a way to give back to Cynthia,” she said. “They’re really focused on trying to deliver a great performance.”

The Classics runs until Feb 13 at the Ryerson Theatre.

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