The Scavenger’s Daughter places audience in a hellish world built around patriarchy and violence

By Karen FrickerTheatre Critic

Fri., Jan. 18, 2019, 3 out of 4 stars

The second instalment of Susanna Fournier’s Empire Trilogy: The best a man can be?

Paradigm Productions’ wildly ambitious, unremittingly dark production dovetails in uncanny ways with the global conversationaround Gillette’s new marketing campaign. The play and ted witzel’s staging plunge audiences into a fictional universe built around and dying from toxic masculinity.

Even before the show starts, we’re cued to see this corner of Fournier’s Empire in a continuum with our own world. Entering into the environment created by Michelle Tracey’s scenography is intoxicating: you walk along a pathway of slatted pallets around a big pile of dirt, taking in the earthy smell and a performer or two lurking in dim light. Sitting down to face the entrance and watching others come in, it’s sometimes hard to know if they’re hipsters in wool winterwear or someone else in the show.

Wherever we are, we’re stuck there: the action begins with a corrugated door rattling down to shut the portal to the outside.

This is just one of many coups de theatre in Tracey’s triumphant design (sets, lighting and costumes: she did them all). Another comes moments later as the central character Jack (Josh Johnston) is introduced, one of the most striking entrances I’ve ever seen on a stage.

The story is set in the 21st year of a war. Jack, a solider in the King’s army, is just back from six months away, during which he’s gained rudimentary literacy and a fiancée: the daughter of a philosopher (a reference to characters in the Trilogy’s first instalment) who taught him to read.

His bunkmate Ash (Conor Wylie) deals morphine in the camp and his former girlfriend Sarah (Samantha Brown) is taking over the running of her mother’s brothel. The Cook (Christopher Stanton) is in charge of stretching whatever foodstuffs can be found to keep the camp alive. The focus of commanding officer Webb (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio) is on keeping hierarchies in place.

In a recent tweet, Paradigm described the show as making the dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale “look like spring break” and they’re right.

Susanna Fournier