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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Theatre review: Never The Last is a beautiful portrait of art and artist

Love story reminds us that Tennyson was correct

Combining theatre, music and movement, Delinquent Theatre’s Never The Last is an ambitious undertaking. And even while the choreography doesn’t quite match the levels found in the play’s other elements, it remains a beautiful portrait of both art and artist.

Inspired by the real life story of composer Sophie-Carmen (Sonia) Eckhardt-Gramatté, Never The Last chronicles the tragic ten-year love affair between the Russian-born musician, and German expressionist painter Walter Gramatté.

Beginning with their first uncomfortable encounter at an art showing in 1919 Berlin, despite Sonia’s initial hesitancy, the two eventually marry. Struggling with their art, health, and some deep-seated issues from their individual pasts, there is an undeniable connection between the two. Wonderfully captured in the performances by Christine Quintana and Anton Lipovetsky, it is in the theatrical moments between them where Never The Last gets its heartbeat.

Lipovetsky is particularly good here, with an ease to his quiet performance which makes it ultimately believable. Quintana has the tougher job in playing the stubborn Sonia, but as this love story takes a dramatic turn her heartbreak runs deep.

As much a character as the two artists is the virtuosic performance by violinist Molly MacKinnon. In a near omnipresent performance, MacKinnon plays all ten of Eckhardt-Gramatté’s violin solos. And even while she is admonished at one point to not underscore the action, in one of several light-hearted acknowledgements of her existence, the music provides a wonderfully realized connective tissue to both the composer and her story.

Where music is the lifeblood running through Never The Last in its portrayal of Eckhardt-Gramatté, a similar link is provided to her husband Walter thanks to set and projection designers Jennifer Stewart and Joel Grinke. Against Stewart’s abstract backdrops, Grinke effectively uses fragments of Walter’s expressionist paintings to visually represent emotion, time, and place.

Set design and projections from Jennifer Stewart and Joel Grinke are the perfect backdrop to this love story. Photo by Matt Reznek.
Set design and projections from Jennifer Stewart and Joel Grinke are the perfect backdrop to this love story. Photo by Matt Reznek.

While performance, music and design are skillfully combined in Never The Last, there is a misstep in the execution of Kayla Dunbar’s choreography. With the sometimes over-extended scenes with movement feeling clumsy, it is evident dance is not the forte of the two actors on stage. There is also a contemporary feel to some of the dialogue  which finds it at odds with its early 20th century setting.

Despite its shortcomings though, Never The Last is a touching reminder that Tennyson was indeed correct, and in our sometimes cynically modern world of swipe right and instant hook-ups, it really is better to have loved.

Never The Last created by Christine Quintana and Molly MacKinnon. Directed by Laura McLean. A Delinquent Theatre production on stage at the Annex (823 Seymour St, Vancouver) until April 20. Visit for tickets and information.

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