Two men wearing white lab coats make their way into the audience. They have a few questions for tonight’s chosen ones. They jot down notes on their clipboards as they ask certain audience members questions like, what is life?
“In your own words, could you please define life?”
A woman in another long white coat films these impromptu interviews from the stage. The speaker’s faces are projected onto a large rectangular screen at the back of the theatre. Their voices, amplified by the microphone, crackle out of the overhead speakers. On the stage there are more researchers, doctors, and scientists in white coats. The stage is divided into part lab, part living room, part prairie farmhouse, and part courtroom. Somewhere out of sight a chicken is clucking.
This is how Chris Abraham’s staging of Annabel Soutar’s exhilarating docu-drama, SEEDS, begins.
We are told that the following piece of theatre has been made, pieced together from questions and answers, court transcripts, quotes, and interviews much like these ones.
SEEDS is the story of Percy Schmeiser (played by Canadian television star Eric Peterson) the Saskatchewan canola farmer who was sued for patent infringement in1998 by the multi-billion dollar biochemical corporation, Monsanto. They accused Schmeiser of illegally obtaining and growing their genetically modified canola seed. The Monsanto seed, “Roundup Ready Canola” (which Schmeiser claimed must have blown onto his property or fallen out of a fellow farmer’s truck sometime in 1997), was a canola seed that had been genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s own brand of herbicide “Round Up”.
To be honest, I had some doubts about a play created word-for-word from court transcripts and recorded interviews. I thought it might be a little dry, or a little too sophisticated for my tastes: too much lawyer jargon and not enough good old-fashioned drama. However, three minutes into the first act of SEEDS, my doubts vanished. I leaned back to enjoy the ride, all 145 minutes of it (which may sound daunting, but Soutar’s storytelling is so poignant and rich, and the details and characters so juicy that by the end of the second act you’ll be wishing there could be a third!).
The third act, is you, at your home afterwards, so moved by what you’ve just seen that you decide to conduct your own research to learn even more about this particular lawsuit and about genetically modified grains and foods that have made their way (unlabeled) onto the shelves of Canadian grocery stores.
Anabel Soutar spent years researching, collecting data, and conducting interviews with witnesses, doctors, lawyers, farmers and scientists. Her diligent investigative techniques really shine through, and make for an engaging and informative storyline.
Soutar’s research process is also documented within the script. The lovely and talented actor, Liisa Repo-Martell plays a younger, pregnant Anabel Soutar travelling across the country to uncover truths, first-hand accounts, and contradictions of what really happened between Schmeiser and Monsanto, the modern-day David versus Goliath.
Soutar delivers characters and arguments from all sides and angles, showing us that it is not good vs. evil, but rather everything and everyone in between. The ending is deliciously ambiguous, and we are urged to come to our own conclusions.
There is plenty of ‘lawyer talk’ and lengthy scientific terms sprinkled throughout the script, but stripped down, the heart of this play, is pure gripping, dramatic storytelling. There are complex, compelling characters with real relationships that grow and bend and shatter. Characters you become invested in; relationships, feelings, and struggles we can all relate to.
With a handful of wonderfully versatile and experienced actors and an intricate and visually stimulating set, SEEDS is a one-of-a-kind production that plants critical questions in the minds of its viewers. Questions and thoughts, that are sure to grow and blossom in our minds, long after we’ve left the theatre.
Chris Abraham’s staging of Anabel Soutar’s carefully crafted documentary-play is a mind-blowing, original theatrical experience that promotes independent learning and cultivates resistance.