A tale of two cities

Alejandra Simmons in Scarberia CYLLA VON TIEDMANN PHOTO
Alejandra Simmons in Scarberia CYLLA VON TIEDMANN PHOTO

Scarborough, U.K., is nothing like Scarborough, Ont. Unlike the urban area in the east end of Toronto, Scarborough – in Yorkshire County – is an idyllic seaside town that’s a popular summertime tourist destination. And Canadian-British playwright Evan Placey is familiar with both places.

His partner’s parents are from the Scarborough across the pond and he’s from the GTA. That’s why he set his latest play Scarberia – on now at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre (YPT) – in these twin cities of sorts.

“I became really fascinated right from the first time we went to visit his parents, like 10 years ago,” says Placey, who grew up in Thornhill, Ont., and moved to the U.K. in 2006.

Evan Placey
Evan Placey

“I was like this is nothing like Scarborough in Toronto near where I grew up. And I became sort of fascinated with the link between these two places,” he continues.

Scarberia, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, follows two sets of boys – played by the same two actors (Shelly Antony and Mishka Thébaud) – after a girl goes missing in Toronto and the body of a woman washes ashore in the U.K. Placey describes the play as a thriller.

As the show switches between the two Scarboroughs, it explores why some young people get into violence as well as larger themes such as identity, loyalty, love and friendship. Placey calls it a coming-of-age story.

He also works with ideas related to quantum physics, including the notion of multiple dimensions. “The form of the play plays with this idea around astral twins, and are the two boys in Scarborough just versions of the same two boys in the U.K.?” Placey says.

As Placey wrote in the Guardian last November, it’s important for him to create engaging plays that challenge young people. The characters in Scarberia, he notes, live in a messy world that’s filled with gangs and violence. And along with that provocative content, Placey notes its form is demanding as well.

“Let’s make the audience work a bit to really sort of explore for them what theatre can be,” Placey says.

The sole female character (Alejandra Simmons), for instance, speaks only in verse. Placey’s also introducing young, Canadian audiences to a side of British life they don’t usually see. “When we did the workshop here, one of the young people in the audience said, ‘Oh, I never realized that not all the people in England were like rich and posh,’” he recalls.

He started working on the play in the U.K. and once YPT got involved, he developed it at the Banff Playwrights Colony.

As part of his research process, he set up a pen pal program between high schools in Toronto – Earl Haig in North York and Scarborough’s R.H. King Academy – and two schools in Yorkshire.


Scarberia is also a way for him to explore his multifaceted identity – he’s both Canadian and British. “It’s not like some of my other plays, it doesn’t have a strong Jewish theme,” he says.

Yet his Judaism still plays into this piece. “I think it always goes back to the idea of, for me, being an outsider and what does it mean to be an outsider.”

Both sets of boys in Scarberia feel isolated in their respective hometowns and that’s a feeling Placey’s familiar with. “In the U.K, and in Europe, it’s hard to be a Jew,” he says, “especially at the moment.”

Scarberia is recommended for ages 14 and up. It runs until May 1 at the Young People’s Theatre. For tickets call 416-862-2222 or click here.