Conceived and written by Melody Anderson, Peter Anderson, Gina Bastone, Colin Heath, David Mackay, Wayne Specht, Roy Surette, and Beatrice Zeilinger. Additional material developed by Darlene Brookes, Tom Jones, and Allan Zinyk. Directed by Wayne Specht. An Axis Theatre Company production. At the Waterfront Theatre on October 25. Continues until November 18
A lot has changed since The Number 14 first pulled away from the curb 20 years ago, but the show’s inventiveness, originality, and virtuosity are undiminished. After touring the play internationally for two decades, Axis Theatre is putting it in the shed for good, but Vancouver audiences have one last chance to enjoy the funniest bus ride you’ll ever take.
The first scene is a tightly choreographed sequence showing a group of grey-suited businessmen in neutral face masks boarding the bus, reading their papers, checking their watches, and disembarking in unison, to a terrifically energetic score by Douglas Macaulay. It’s the evening’s first and last glimpse of orderliness, and as the chaos ratchets up, so do the laughs.
Some of the passengers are familiar types, but their behaviours are extreme: a harried real-estate agent dresses and grooms for the day while talking on her cellphone, a chatty construction worker harasses a fellow passenger right off the bus, and an old woman’s unsteadiness turns into acrobatics as the bus lurches along. Other bits, like the verbal sparring of two Shakespearean actors, and the courtship of a cat-woman and mouse-man, are just plain absurd. The surprises just keep coming, and the pace never flags.
Many actors have ridden this bus since the show’s debut, including original creator–cast member Wayne Specht, who directs a superb team in this production. All play multiple characters, and all are gifted physical comedians. Joining veterans Sarah Rodgers and Stefano Giulianetti are newcomers Chris Adams, Morgan Brayton, Neil Minor, and Scott Walters—and they all have more than a few tricks up their sleeve. Minor’s acrobatic agility dazzles, and Brayton wrings huge laughs from small, precise gestures: just watch her sleepy Old World grandma as she struggles to keep her eyes open.
Melody Anderson’s exquisite masks are as vital as the actors to the success of these characterizations, and Macaulay’s spot-on music sets a perfect pace.
Alongside the nostalgia-inducing visuals—a Walkman (!), a vintage paper transfer, the old red-striped BC Transit livery on Pam Johnson’s beautifully functional set—are some shrewd updates: “We’re replacing the Lion’s Gate Bridge with the old Port Mann,” says the construction worker. If you’ve never boarded The Number 14 you should grab this opportunity to catch one of Vancouver theatre’s most original and entertaining creations.