Stage Door News
Toronto: Emma Donoghue’s “Room” runs April 5-May 8 at the Princess of Wales Theatre
Monday, February 28, 2022
David Mirvish, The Grand Theatre, London ON, and UK’s Covent Garden Productions, proudly present the North American premiere of the stage adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s international best-selling novel, and Oscar-, Canadian Screen Award-, Golden Globe- and BAFTA-winning film, Room.
Room will play April 5 to May 8, 2022 at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre following an engagement at the Grand Theatre, March 8 to 19, 2022. Tickets to the Toronto engagement of Room will go on sale Friday March 4th through www.mirvish.com.
Room is part of both the 2021-2022 Main Mirvish subscription as well as the Off-Mirvish subscription seasons, the first time the same production has been included in both.
The Story & Background to the Stage Production
Content Warning: This production depicts sexual assault, kidnapping and psychological trauma.
Room is a story about resilience, the power of imagination and a mother’s love. The novel, published in 2010, was an international best seller, won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was shortlisted for numerous additional literary awards, including the Booker Prize.
Room centres on Ma, a young mother, and her young son, Jack. As a teenager Ma was kidnapped and locked inside a purpose-built room in her kidnapper’s garden. While in captivity Ma was raped by her captor and gave birth to a son. The story begins five years later. Young Jack has no concept of the world outside. All he knows is what he calls “Room,” which he lives happily in with Ma. Their life consists of games Ma creates to entertain and educate her son. These games also provide comfort and structure to their existence, which is regularly interrupted by her captor, who they refer to as Old Nick. Jack's vivid imagination turns everyday items like Rug, Lamp, and TV into his only friends.
When Jack turns five, Ma's anxiety about the future, particularly about what will happen to her son compels her to plan an escape from their prison. She prepares Jack for their biggest challenge to date: leaving Room and facing the world outside.
In 2015, Donoghue adapted the story for a film version, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, which was filmed in Toronto. It opened at the Toronto International Film Festival and was instantly recognized as a masterpiece. A critical and box office success, it went on to win many prizes, including an Oscar. Donoghue won the Canadian Screen Award for her screenplay and was nominated for the Oscar in the same category.
In 2016, the Scottish actor, writer, director and producer Cora Bissett approached Donoghue about adapting her novel for the stage. Donoghue had already written four plays and was keen to adapt Room, which, because of its single setting in the first part of the story, made it especially suitable for the stage. Unique to Bissett’s vision of the stage adaptation was the inclusion of original songs. To aid in the telling of the story, the part of Jack was split into two. Little Jack was written for a very young actor. SuperJack was written for an actor in his 20s, who shadows, comments and interprets Little Jack's actions and thoughts from an adult point of view. This theatrical device tells the story in a very different way than the novel and film.
The adaptation was workshopped and co-produced by London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. The world premiere of Room, adapted by Donoghue, with music and lyrics by Bissett and Kathryn Joseph, and directed by Bissett, premiered at Theatre Royal Stratford East on May 10, 2017, and then toured to the Abbey Theatre and to Dundee Rep in Dundee, Scotland. The production received critical and audience acclaim.
The Times of London called it, “A triumph! Haunting and reflective music and lyrics that emerge naturally from the narrative. Compelling viewing (even in you know the ending.)" In The Guardian, critic Michael Billington wrote: “A strangely moving work about the power of imagination and the pain of adjustment to a new reality. Bissett’s production is ingenious. What comes across most strongly is the bond between the resilient Ma and Little Jack: both outstandingly evoke the tenacity of love in enforced isolation. I found the prospect of the play intimidating. In the end, I was deeply touched by its testament to human resourcefulness.” The Scotsman wrote: “This story that is in some ways a harrowing one, also brings many in the audience to tears. Yet it is also a tremendously beautiful, vivid and uplifting show about the power of a mother’s love.”
Producers from Mirvish Productions saw the show at Stratford East and approached the Grand Theatre about a co-production. Donoghue, who is originally from Dublin, Ireland, has made her home in London, ON, since 1998, so the Grand was a natural choice of theatre in which to begin the play’s North American life.
The stage adaptation was further developed by Donoghue and Bissett in the summer of 2019 at the Grand. The new version was originally scheduled to have its premiere on March 13, 2020 at the Grand, after a few previews. The morning of the opening performance the theatre announced it was shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the show never opened. But a journalist from the London Free Press had attended the final preview on March 12 and published a review that read: "An artistic triumph, a brilliantly constructed and performed play ... a different experience than reading the book or watching the film, but arguably more powerful and entertaining ... Seldom is a play adapted from a novel as fulfilling and rich an experience as the original read, but Room is.”
The second time an attempt was made to premiere Room in North America was January 2022 at the Grand Theatre with a Toronto engagement beginning in February. Unfortunately, due to the Omicron variant, this too had to be cancelled.
Now, with the Omicron transmission waning, Room will finally be on stage and have the North American premiere it has been denied for two years.
The Cast and Creative Team
The all-Canadian cast of seven is headed by award-winning Stratford Festival favourite, Alexis Gordon as Ma. Two young stars in the making, 10-year-old Lucien Duncan-Reid and 11-year-old Levi Dombokah, alternate as Little Jack. Also starring are: Stewart Arnott as Grandpa/Doctor; Brandon Michael Arrington as SuperJack, Little Jack’s alter ego; Tracey Ferencz as Grandma; Shannon Taylor as Interviewer/Police Officer/Popcorn Seller; and Ashley Wright as Old Nick.
The set and costume design is by Lily Arnold, lighting design by Bonnie Beecher, video design by Andrzej Goulding and sound design by John Gzowski. Linda Garneau is the movement coach.
About Emma Donoghue
Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, Emma Donoghue is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter and playwright, living in London Ontario with her family. The youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic), she attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, she has remarked, without learning to actually speak French). In 1997 she received her PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, she’s been a writer, best known for her fiction, and has been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since she was sacked after a single summer month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with Chris Roulston and their son Finn and daughter Una.
Her newest novel "The Pull of the Stars” was published in spring 2020 (and written before Covid-19) was inspired by the centenary of the end of the Great Flu of 1918 and is set in a Dublin hospital where a midwife-nurse, a doctor and a volunteer helper fight to save patients in a tiny maternity quarantine ward.
COVID-19 AUDIENCE SAFETLY MEASURES
The Mirvish theatres are now operating at full capacity. We have put in place several measures in accordance with the Province of Ontario’s reopening plan. All audience members must be fully vaccinated and wear a mask for the duration of their visit for this event.
Details of what to expect during your visit to the theatre can be found on our website: www.mirvish.com
Begins Tuesday April 5 - May 8, 2022
Tuesday - Saturday: 8:00 PM
Saturday & Sunday matinees: 2:00 PM
Wednesday matinees: 1:30 PM
Running Time: 2 hours plus intermission
Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto, ON
Tickets $59 - $129 available only through www.mirvish.com and by phone at 1-800-461-3333
Illustration: Room. © 2021 Scott McKowen.