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North Shore Theatre Company: Spies Are Forever - Review by Daniel Conway

It is amazing how memories of specific moments in your life can be triggered by the smallest things. Forever, the smell of a fireplace will remind me of being a young person visiting my family's farm in Ireland. I remember nothing about that trip in terms of specifics, but that smell is vivid and paints a really specific picture. I had a similar experience watching the first act of "Spies Are Forever." Every joke, the pacing, and the style of humour felt so familiar, despite having never seen the show before. This mystery was solved when I looked at the program and saw that the composers of this show were members of viral sensation Starkid, and suddenly it made sense why I felt like I was 19 hanging out with my friends at uni. North Shore Theatre Company's production of "Spies Are Forever" really captures the absurdity and the very specific style of comedy intended by the composers and does it all while showcasing some pretty talented humans.

Director Matthew Dorahy has put together an entertaining show that really makes use of the strengths of their cast. Much like myself, you could tell that Dorahy was used to the specific brand of humour that the Tin Can Bros were pitching. While I think not every joke landed, and while I think more could have been done with the core of the satire, 1960's spy genre, there were elements that made me really excited. I think the choice to have AFAB/feminine-presenting cast members play male roles in the context of a parody of a Cold War spy drama was really effective. Visually as well, the use of the limited space of the Zenith Theatre to create entries and exits that were fun and camp really added to the overall production. Dorahy has good instincts for visual composition, and I would be interested to see what they could pull off in a bigger space. Speaking of space considerations, Jess Luth did a commendable job of making sure that traffic on stage was never too congested and that movement wasn't capable, which again is not easy given the confines of the Zenith, a beautiful, albeit intimate theatre. The final part of the production team is the duo of Zoe Conolan-Glen and Kimberly Gilbert, the Musical Directors. This music is very wordy, and the humour is based on delivery and tone, and that is a lot to balance while also making sure it sounds good. Conolan-Glen and Gilbert did not have an easy job, and I think they were successful in getting a sound from their performers that allowed them to shine in performance and sound quality.

The cast is diverse and very talented. Toby Rowe did a wonderful job of playing this caricature of the suave spy that Curt Mega is styled after, kind of like Archer, but with the sensibilities of 2010's Tumblr satire. He had some fantastic one-liners and managed to find a great rhythm with his cast members. Rowe additionally has a phenomenal voice; his solos were beautiful and he has such impressive control. Meg Nevin equally did a great job as the Russian Femme Fatale Tatiana. I found her performance endearing, and any criticisms I might have are with the writing, not anything she was doing. Quite honestly, I wanted more of her, and I think that is a credit to Nevin's performance. The same could be said about Milo Kidd's character Owen Carver. I truly believe that Kidd's performance added to the character and made me interested in what their story is in a way that I don't think the script was. The highlight of the night for me was Dean Alexander as Dr. Baron Von Nazi. Alexander is hilarious, and his scenes were some of the strongest ones of the night. I love absurdist humour, and it takes a special kind of performer to pull that off. Alexander injected such great energy into every scene and did so in a way that lifted everyone's performance. An example of this is Louie Frayland's deadliest man alive. Frayland's characterization was so funny in their introduction but hilarious when paired with Alexander. These two balanced energies so well.

"Spies Are Forever" is a large ensemble cast, many of whom play more than one character. I could list everyone and say how great they were, but in the interest of brevity, I am going to mention a few standouts. Toby Nunn's Sergio was infectiously funny and camp, Jay Mancuso's performance of the opening number was beautiful; they set the tone in a Bond theme song kind of way and sounded exquisite. Jordan Miller is one of the funniest people on that stage. Everything she did was hilarious, and her Mrs. Mega is a scene-stealer. Emma-Jane Dwyer as the informant was really fun and absurd in the best possible way.

My biggest complaint of the night, and I say this recognizing that everyone on stage and involved in the show was doing good things, but I think the show itself and the style of humour might not hit the way it used to. An example of this is the queerness of the characters. Dorahy has assembled a really diverse and queer team, but if this was removed, the queerness is a punchline that doesn't have a huge payoff. Similarly, the lead women aren't as multi-dimensional as I would have liked, which doesn't challenge the genre it is satirising enough for me. All of these actors did a great job of pulling out as much as they could to create interesting dynamics, and while I have this gripe, it not once took away from how amazing their vocals were or how funny their line delivery was. I think Dorahy was smart to lean into the absurd and the camp, and when they did, it was the strongest moments of the show.

"Spies Are Forever" is a time capsule of 2010's satire, and despite that, or because of it, it is great material for young creatives to have fun and create something enjoyable. I give North Shore Theatre Company's "Spies Are Forever" 3.75 ordinary items that are actually guns out of 5.

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