There can be only one Pope

Rough Trade cabaret is a raunchy & nostalgic trip

It takes five women to equal one Carole Pope. Almost.

In the early 1980s, Video Hits and Samantha Fox were my life-line to the outside world. From 5:30 to six o’clock every weekday, I would sit on my couch and watch the most fashionable people I had ever seen, singing about things I was too young to fully understand.

Duran Duran and Bryan Adams, Rough Trade and The Thompson Twins seemed like they had it all together with their primo attitude – and a good stylist. I certainly never imagined that I would be, many years later, sitting in the same room as Carole Pope, watching a show devoted to her, creative partner Kevan Staples, and the musical career of Rough Trade.

Shaking The Foundation, which opens the Buddies In Bad Times Theatre season, is a musical review, with hazy structure and little context. The two-hour play-list is performed by rotating singers with musical styles ranging from rock and roll diva, to musical theatre alumni. In our neck of the woods, diversity is a good thing.

The problem? None of them was Carole.

I have a stack of mixed cassettes from my youth, taped off the top-40 station in Ottawa. Carefully cut and edited on my teenage bedroom boom box, this collection of music reminds me of a time when Parachute pants were the ultimate fashion statement, and bright turquoise eye-liner was all the rage.

There still are days when I pull out the poorly recorded, barely reasonable musical facsimiles, and stew in nostalgia, homesick for the days when drama was acceptable in one’s life and angst was my middle name. Listening to Shaking’s five female cast members (Gwyneth Baille, Jane Miller, Tanya Rich, Astrid Van Wieren and Paula Wilfson) along with a pianist (Holly Arsenault), sing their hearts out in honor of Pope, was something like those days. A celebration of times past, but unfortunately, not the real thing.

What these women did do was capture the raw emotion of Rough Trade’s lyrics.

There’s camp and irony, the right amount of country, meets city, meets roomful of gay glitterati on opening night, laughter and tenderness. All of that contained within the two hours of song, along with the choreography and interaction between the cast members, well executed and effective in conveying the lyrical message, was quite pleasurable.

But… the lack of structure and explanation makes the show difficult to follow. Is it chronological? Are the songs grouped according to emotional impact? Or is it designed to reflect a round robin of talent?

Not being a hard core Rough Trade fan, I don’t know the answer to the

question of chronology. And not being a theatre critic it’s hard for me to get over the fact that what I was watching was not the real thing. Objectivity is important, but with the woman of honour in attendance, as each song passed, it proved increasingly difficult to muster.


For me, the true enjoyment came in recognizing what a testament the production is to a local gal who’s made her mark, rather than a lengthy walk down memory lane. And based on audience reaction, I was not alone. The curtain call, enthusiastically applauded, was peppered with calls of “Carole, Carole, Carole.” Clearly some of the folks in the room knew who they loved and why they were there.

The individuals responsible for launching, writing, performing and staging the show should all be applauded for their devotion to the material, and the commitment to the performance which was clearly evident. And, I suppose it shouldn’t really matter if they weren’t Rough Trade, ’cause really there is only one Pope.

Shaking The Foundations.
$13-$15. Sun & Tue PWYC.
Till Sun, Oct 31.
Tallulah’s Cabaret.
12 Alexander St.
(4160 975-8555.

Read More About:
Culture, Music, Arts, Theatre, Toronto

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