REVIEW: Iceland by Nicholas Billon, directed by Ravi Jain

I had two favourites of the seven shows I saw at the SummerWorks Performance Festival. However much I loved Ron Peterson’s performance in Extinction Song there was something about Iceland written by Nicholas Billon and directed by Ravi Jain that really blew me away…There were many things that blew me away. What struck me most about Iceland was the writing; it is effortlessly believable and unflinchingly honest. It’s three characters are, for lack of a better English word, raw.

Iceland promo photo
Photo cred: Dwyane Fundano

To be brief (synopsis-wise), Iceland provides the audience with three monologues that slowly reveals the three perspectives of a murder. It is the death of “capital “c” Capitalist” Halim by the hands of God-fearing/anxiety disorder ridden Christian Anna as witnessed by the young and earnest prostitute and university student, Kassandra.

Kassandra is first to give her testimony to the audience and from her first word we understand Christine Horne is an incredibly gifted actress with impressive control. Kassandra is more understated than Halim and Anna. I wondered why Billon opened with Kassandra and it’s no mystery that, narratively, Kassandra’s story is interesting and a good hook. However, it’s more than that. She’s our link, we sympathize with her. We sympathize with Kassandra.

After being blown away by Horne, I was surprised to find Kawa Ada’s Halim to be my favourite part of the show. Everything from the way he draped himself over the chair to his criticizing the audience (directly) for being too uptight, Ada had the audience eating out of his hand. Halim stood for everything that I hate about the stereotypical money-driven suit-type people but I just wanted to hear more. (Most impressively and hilariously, a man in the front row did not turn off his phone (shame!), and sure enough it went off during Ada’s monologue. The man couldn’t find his phone (though the sound filled the entire room) and Ada slid down further in his chair and said something to the man along the lines of, “oh no, please go ahead. I’ll wait. No, please, take it.” It was perfect! Completely in character, completely believable, completely spontaneous).

But of course the ringer was Claire Calnan. Her character Anna got off to a shaky start and I believe that is due to the smack in the face the audience received from Ada. It’s something that cannot be helped and Calnan does her best to win the crowd over after Ada danced circles around them. She is perfect as Anna, a woman with so much repressed anger that she’s a powder keg ready for a spark.

I cannot go on enough about the three wonderful actors but the credit goes to Billon and to Jain. Jain’s direction is subtle but it’s there and it’s nonetheless effective. His staging is so simple it hits you hard when there is a change. And the addition of a sound cue at the end of the play to go along with the end of Horne’s second monologue sent chills up my spine.

Iceland won two awards at SummerWorks:
Contra Guys Award for Outstanding New Text awarded to Nicholas Billon and NOW Magazine’s Audience Choice Award for Best Show.
And holy! This show deserved it!

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