By Catherine Hayes

Presented at the Edmonton Fringe Festival

Coralie Cairns, Anne McGrath, and Davina Stewart
Directed by Wayne Paquette
Stage Managed by Jenn Best

Photography by Walter Tychnowicz – Wiresharp Photography

Nominated for 1 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award
Outstanding Actress in a Fringe Play (Davina Stewart)



Death can be, arguably, an enlivening philosophical mystery zone. Dying, however, is a messy, high-maintenance business, with a tendency to bring out the worst in people, especially the ones who are alive and kicking.

Blarney Productions is a theatre company that has given audiences some of its most gut-punching experiences (think Orange Flower Water). I wonder if they’ve done anything as harrowing as this insightful, bleakly humorous heart-stopper, written in acid by English playwright Catherine Hayes and directed by Wayne Paquette.

In the theatre of suspenseful silences, they don’t come much tenser than the ones in Skirmishes. Partly, of course, it’s because the play takes us to the deathbed of an old lady who’s so near to expiration that her two warring daughters, long estranged but reunited to attend this inevitability, are never quite sure whether it’s already happened. Partly, it’s because the proximity of death, and the gruesome progress of dying, nudge the sisters back into their ancient rivalries, their resentments, their disappointments with the way their lives have turned out – in fact, a whole family dynamic that seems to be repeating itself in a particularly grotesque way.

Jean (Davina Stewart) is the daughter who stayed. She’s been locked in the sickroom, mopping up and being nurse so long that not only is she inured to the pieties, she’s positively quivering with rage, resentment and impatience. Rita (Coralie Cairns), high heeled, well-groomed and with an unmistakable whiff of maternal smugness about her, is the one who escaped. She’s back, grudgingly, apparently immune to guilt (“two days is the best I can do… my children don’t like old people”), but not averse to offering criticism.
The dynamic is flammable. Stewart commands an arsenal of toxic barbs, and looks so withering they could defoliate the Thousand Acre Wood at a thousand paces. Cairns wears an impermeable armour of self-justifications. Our perceptions subtly change as the characters gain dimensions in the course of these graveside skirmishes. And the corpse – in the making (Anne McGrath) isn’t just a bystander in a death watch that’s all about our humanity.

Beautifully directed. Compellingly performed.

4 1/2 out of 5 Stars.


SEE MAGAZINE – Curtis Wright

Death has a way of bringing family together. It divides us irrevocably from the people we love the most, but it can also bring us closer to family members we’ve always held at arm’s length. A deathbed gathering doesn’t have to be a dark experience – it can be a celebration of a life, an occasion to pay respect to the sacrifices of an older generation. And Skirmishes, directed by Wayne Paquette and starring Coralie Cairns and Davina Stewart, is a beautiful production of a play about family dynamics and problems never properly dealt with.
Cairns and Stewart, playing estranged sisters forced to reunite by the impending death of their mother, are note-perfect from start to finish, from the awkward silences to their defensive justifications of their life choices and the way they are towards each other. These are deeply flawed women whose disrespect for the solemn occassion at hand is occasionally even disgusting. But it’s also deeply human. Skirmishes is filled with toxic dialogue, valuable insight, and miserable humour – if there is such a thing – and I highly recommend it.

4 out of 5 Stars.


VUE WEEKLY – Cody Civiero

The people behind SKIRMISHES deserve credit for having the bravery to create some realistically unlikable characters. Many people are whiny, self-entitled, petty and unable to look past their own self-interest, and it’s worthwhile that this reality is portrayed in art and entertainment. But when that is all that there is to a work, it can get difficult to sit through. The characters each have legitimate grievances, but are both so self-pitying and unempathetic towards one another that it’s hard to care, however well-realized: this can feel like simulation of being caught in the crossfire of an hour and a half long pissing contest that you can’t walk away from or weigh in on.

3 out of 5 Stars.