Skip to main content

REVIEW: Never the Last at Delinquent Theatre/Theatre Passe Muraille

/By / Apr 15, 2023

Theatre fans with a soft spot for stringed instruments are sure to have enjoyed Theatre Passe Muraille’s 2022-23 season. 

Following in the atmospheric footsteps of October’s Year of the Cello is Vancouver import Never the Last, a memory play about Russian-Canadian composer Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, whose 10 little known violin solos serve as a sort of narrative skeleton in Christine Quintana’s tender, delicate script. 

As Quintana (who also plays the feisty composer) guides us through the pain and pleasures of Eckhardt-Grammatté’s life and musical oeuvre, gifted violinist Molly MacKinnon lingers to the side, flooding the TPM Mainspace with the composer’s 10 caprices, experimental in form and often devoid of coherent melody. For eighty minutes MacKinnon plays, nimbly switching playing styles as needed, from rainlike, plucked pizzicato notes to the more ominous, breathy col legno strokes, played with the wood (rather than hair) of her bow. Director Laura McLean has elegantly staged MacKinnon such that she is not a mere accompaniment to the action downstage — she’s an active participant who happens to play instead of speak.

While Eckhardt-Gramatté’s world was dominated by music, it was not without a piercing, beautiful lover by her side. Expressionist painter Walter Gramatté (played here by a wonderful Amitai Marmorstein) was Sophie’s muse, and she his; as Quintana tells it, the two were a funny, well-matched duo of bohemian artists, gallivanting across Europe, picking out new towns whenever the money ran out. When we see Sophie and Walter meet, trading glugs of bad whiskey, there’s no pretending the two aren’t soulmates: the characters are well acted and well written to boot, vibrant and sharp against the ghostly presence of MacKinnon’s violin.

Quintana’s savvy script is smartly structured, never giving in to the easy sentimentalism that could be made of a true love ended too soon — Eckhardt-Gramatté died in 1974, her husband nearly 50 years prior. The numbered caprices offer a regimented spine to the narrative, signposting the play’s temporal progress and hurtling us towards the inevitable future. There’s much to be said in favour of Never the Last’s pacing, and its skillful avoidance of cliché. Quintana as playwright does not garishly fawn over the remains of a deceased composer — she honours her, with an evident depth of research and a touching, appropriate reverence.

It’s aesthetically where things feel less cohesive. Never the Last plays out against three iceberg-looking walls, which at times serve as canvases for Gramatté’s paintings, and at others as a backdrop for projections of the caprice titles. Jenn Stewart’s set and Joel Grinke’s projections feel strikingly modern against the rugged history of Quintana’s text, and this visual encounter between past and present feels at times unsupported by the motion of the play. 

As well, there were some sound quibbles on opening night, where actors’ voices disappeared into the ambient noise of the TPM mainspace. There are moments, too, where it seems sonic balance may not quite be there between the amplified violin and the subtler voices onstage — both drown each other out at different points of the play.

All in, Never the Last is a lovely tribute to a trailblazing composer, who after her death settled in Canada and forever left a mark on this country’s musical landscape. Quintana — as playwright and actor (and singer!) — simply shines, and when she harmonizes with MacKinnon, there’s just nothing better.

Never the Last runs at Theatre Passe Muraille through April 16. Tickets are available here.

Aisling Murphy

Aisling Murphy

Aisling is Intermission's senior editor and an award-winning arts journalist with bylines including the Toronto Star, NEXT Magazine, CTV News Toronto, and Maclean's. She likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cats, Fig and June.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Production photo of The Caged Bird Sings at the Aga Khan Museum. iPhoto caption: Photo by Zeeshan Safdar.

REVIEW: With the help of a daring set, The Caged Bird Sings brings Rumi into the present day

Literal and metaphorical cages abound in this radical adaptation of Rumi’s Masnavi, produced by Modern Times Stage Company and presented in the Aga Khan Museum’s courtyard.

By Liam Donovan
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: Age Is a Feeling aches with tenderness and love

Age Is a Feeling is a warm hug for whoever might need it.

By Aisling Murphy
Production shots of the Stratford Festival shows reviewed below: Hedda Gabler, Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet. iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Straightforward concepts, stripped-down sets, and strong performances define Stratford’s approach to the canon this year

Throughout Stratford’s productions of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and Hedda Gabler, moments of actorly playfulness jolt us into the here and now.

By Liam Donovan
stratford festival iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Stratford boasts a flair for the dramatic in two terrific musicals and a spooky take on Shakespeare

All in, this was a very strong opening week for Stratford, but seriously, go see the musicals!

By Aisling Murphy
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: The Wrong Bashir is an ode to the hyphenated identities of Canada

Quibbles on the show's comedy aside, The Wrong Bashir will stay with me for a while as a successful ode to hyphenated identities across Canada. 

By Eleanor Yuneun Park
iPhoto caption: Photo of Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall by Cylla von Tiedemann.

REVIEW: The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like coming home

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling, and Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like I came home. I was taken on a journey watching this play and came out honoured to be a witness to such an incredible story. I encourage you to do the same.

By Aisha Lesley Bentham