The art of experiential theatre and the Canadian premiere of ‘strangers, babies’ by Toronto’s Theatre PANIK

What does it mean to be forgiven? How do you reinvent yourself when the choices you made changed the lives of others in profound ways? Who decides when you can let go? 

The play strangers, babies doesn’t attempt to answer these questions, but it won’t let you get away without asking them of you.

Produced by the thought-provoking Toronto company Theatre Panik, strangers, babies marks award-winning Scottish playwright Linda McLean’s Canadian debut. 

The story follows May, a woman seeking shelter from an inner darkness she’s only beginning to understand, as she interacts with five mysterious men.

McLean does not define their relationships; instead, she requires the audience to piece together the fragments of May’s past while providing both clues and confusion.

This blurring of information mimics the larger ideas that inhabit a fine line between innocence and guilt, adult and child, us and them.

Theatre Panik’s co-artistic directors, Niki Landau and Paul Lampert, have interpreted McLean’s work to emphasize this “us versus them” theme by staging their performance as an interactive series of curated vignettes that the audience physically navigates alongside May’s reflexive journey.

“It’s a new idea, curatorial theatre, but it’s really the flipside of a growing trend,” says Lampert. “We’re creating live theatre that feels like an art gallery, partly because the character, May, [is] constantly under the microscope and partly because we love the freedom and curiosity that one feels when looking at art. You can immerse yourself, or you can stand back — it’s your choice.”

In our current times, when horrific crimes are being streamed on social media, choosing between immersing yourself or standing back becomes even more relevant. What part do we play in the lives we touch, the content we consume?

“Here’s a story about a woman who is desperate to escape the public eye, to live a normal life, and you, as the audience, won’t let her,” says Landau, who also performs the role of May. 

“You're sitting right in the room, or you’re looking in the window — you’re culpable. It makes you part of May’s story."

Strangers, babies makes us question our responsibility as participants, our assumptions about starting over and the consequences of mistakes we can’t undo.

As we acknowledge Canada’s 150th year since Confederation, the debate about forgiveness takes place on and off the stage. 

Is it possible for enough time to pass for a wound to fully heal? Is the victim the only one who has been hurt? Or is the offender allowed to feel pain too? The answer may unsettle you.

Strangers, babies runs May 11 to 28 at Artscape Sandbox, tickets available online

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO