The Unexpected Impact of Expectation in Citadel Theatre’s The Fiancée

Original image courtesy of the Citadel Theatre.

As in-person Canadian theatre slowly re-opens, Intermission’s Editors will be sharing personal reflections on the realities of being back in the theatre. These are not criticisms or reviews. These are not blog posts. They are memories of being caught in the middle of a theatre renaissance. They are an archive. They are history.

I’m calm. 

Surprising, I know. In a brief tour of Alberta filled with long days and short nights, old friends and new networks, and vastly more alcohol than I’ve had since college (again, sorry mom), this is the first moment where I’ve felt… stable.

Perhaps the humidity of the plant-filled atrium is to blame. I do love plants. Maybe I should buy more plants… Then again, perhaps it’s because I know what to expect. 

Sort of. 

It’s the third time I’ve been to a theatre in three days, and only the first time where I’ve known what the show is about and who I’ll see in it. Sure, Die-Nasty is improvised, and I reached out to Grindstone about Jason Kenney’s Hot Boy Summer at 10:30 p.m. the night before I attended. But for the first time since I’ve returned to the province in which I lived for five of the most formative years of my life, I’m feeling, dare I say, confident?

I’m also very aware of the audience around me, many of whom are peeking back at me to see what I’m doing. I’ve gone largely ignored at the other shows I’ve seen this week — when you take notes at a comedy show, people just think you’re a regular weirdo. But here, they stare. They whisper. An elderly woman in a mask makes unashamed prolonged eye contact with me as she unwraps a lozenge, pulls down her mask, pops the lozenge in, and replaces said mask. 

This is what happens when you go to a fancy theatre and whip out a notebook. People think you’re important.

And the Citadel Theatre certainly is a fancy theatre. It’s the largest theatre in Edmonton, and every time I walk in, I unconsciously stand up straighter. It’s the theatre every drama school graduate dreams of working in — big shows, big sets, a very big deal. The second I’m in that hot, humid, gorgeous jungle of an atrium, I’m on high alert. When the show you’re seeing just came off the West End for a brief stop before heading to Broadway, you have to be prepared for anything.

Basically, the Citadel is where you go when you want to see something big. And this, the first show of their first official season since before the pandemic, is a big deal.

It’s certainly a big deal for me, personally, as I know half the cast — some are friends, some acquaintances, and one is even one of my best friends.

My expectations are high. It almost feels unfair. Just as my fellow patrons expect me to be some sort of fancy theatre critic, what with my notebook and trenchcoat (you know, the telltale signs of an official journalist/detective), I sit in a fancy theatre and I expect a fancy show.

I certainly get a fancy show.

It’s an incredibly difficult show. This is a highly-stylized, comedic period piece centred in physical comedy. Many of the actors haven’t been on stage in months, if not years. It is demanding a lot from them as performers. 

It demands virtually nothing from audiences but their presence.

I am nervous for the cast throughout the first half of the show. These are all people I know, people I’ve seen perform before, and I find myself distracted. I ask myself if they’ve had enough time, if they’re prepared. When an actor almost slips, I dart my head around, gauging if anyone else has noticed. I’m on edge, enjoying what’s happening, but acutely aware of the passage of time, my untouched wine, sitting on the floor.

The interval arrives and I spring up, pacing anxiously. I need to move. I’m still not touching my wine but I practically snort a tube of mentos. When the lights dim for a second time, I slide back into my seat and hold my breath, tense.

It’s remarkable how setting an expectation can change an experience. Where I had been stiff, unable to appreciate what was happening on stage throughout the first half, in the second act I am calm. When the show started, I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I know they can handle it.

I did not expect how fresh this classic tale would feel.

The second half of the show flew by. Relaxed, I am actually able to engage with what is happening on stage, and what I see is pure fun. A moment of brilliant physical comedy leaves the entire theatre in stitches, and we hold our collective breaths through a tense moment. It isn’t just me — it seems as though everyone in the audience has relaxed, their expectations set and met.

Look. I’ll be the first to say that this show is not perfect — I won’t go into details, as again, I am not a fancy critic. I’m a fancy reflection-writer, thank you. But what I will say right now, is that this is the PERFECT show to produce right after the pandemic. Light. Airy. Charming. Entirely unrelated to the events of the past two years, and making absolutely no effort to try and work those events into the show.

For two whole hours, I feel free of the pandemic. Despite my mask, despite the limited theatre capacity, all I can think about is what’s happening in the moment.

I did not expect how fresh this classic tale would feel.

There has been a collective sense of worry throughout the entire theatre community, I think, that when the return of live theatre came, it would be upon a tidal wave of shows about the pandemic. And if it wasn’t about the pandemic, it would mention the pandemic. And if it doesn’t mention the pandemic, it would be a thinly veiled metaphor for the pandemic. It’s a real dilemma: the pandemic is, after all, a current event, and should not theatre be timely and relevant?

Yes, The Fiancée is set in the 1940s, but it still feels modern. I’m twenty-six, and I don’t know if that makes me old or young or somewhere in between, but I instantly recognise the characters’ influence. I can keep up with the modern insults and retorts, I still find brief moments of slapstick humour funny, and I’m just Albertan enough to heartily laugh at Leduc’s expense (sorry Leduc).

Did the experience change my life and the way I look at theatre? No. 

Did I expect it to? Also no. 

Was it a charming and witty, cleverly crafted piece of theatre that succeeded in transporting me out of the stress of life for two hours?

Absolutely. 

Expectations were set and expectations were met. I never did finish my glass of wine. But I did manage to relax, breathe, and simply enjoy the show.


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Written By

Jessica is an Associate Editor at Intermission, as well as a writer, classically-trained actor, and plant enthusiast. Since graduating from LAMDA in the UK with her MA in acting, you can often find her writing screenplays and short plays in the park, writing extensive lists of plant care tips, or working on stage and screen (though she uses a stage name). Jessica freelances with various companies across Canada, but her passion lies in working with theatre artists and enthusiasts.