Hamlet

Ontario 2015 002

Seen June 23 & 26 2015; Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Antoni Cimolino

Confession time: the plan for summer 2015 originally wasn’t to go to Stratford, but visit Scotland and spare ourselves the jetlag. Then during our stay in Stratford last year, Hamlet was announced to be on the playbill in 2015 and those who know me well will attest to the fact that I am physically unable to stay away from a production of this play. To make matters worse, a few days later news got out that the title role had gone to Jonathan Goad and I distinctly remember saying I would like to see him as Hamlet in a few years when we walked out of the Patterson after Othello in 2007. Bye bye fried Mars bars, hello Paulette Bunyon. Continue reading

King John

2014-09-13 17.12.55

Seen September 6, Tom Patterson Theatre

Cast: Tom McCamus, Patricia Collins, Andrew Lawrie, Jennifer Mogbock, Brad Rudy, Stephen Russell, Sean Arbuckle, Wayne Best, Daniel Briere, Graham Abbey, Brigit Wilson, Ryan Field, Peter Hutt, Adrew Robinson, Rylan , Wilkie, Jamie Mac, Anthony Malarky, Antoine Yared, Noah Jalava, Seana McKenna, E.B. Smith, André Morin, Karack Osborn, Carmen Grant, Deirdre Gillard-Rowlings, Brian Tree

Directed by Tim Carroll

Somewhere over the Atlantic now and still bumpy. The 10 fingers typing system gets interesting when netbook and hands are moving in different directions….

King John was our last play in Stratford this year, but also a first; out of the three of us, none had ever read or seen it, so we really weren’t prepared for the Graham Abbey show that was the first half of the play. It was absolutely hilarious and a few teenagers in the first row are probably never going to forget that making a loud noise during a performance can lead to you being dragged into things for the rest of the night.

To those who read my previous posts: you are probably going to think I’m repeating myself when I’m saying how great the entire cast was, but it’s true. I am not going to point out every single cast member – even though they would have deserved it – but I would watch the Abbey/McCamus (who is brilliant in reacting via facial expressions alone)/Arbuckle comedy hour any time, this (and Mother Courage) might be the best I’ve seen Peter Hutt do so far and the person who found Noah Jalava, who plays young Arthur should get an award. Most adults would have trouble with that many lines and the kid not only memorised them perfectly, but also displayed quite some acting talent.

There was one side-effect of the witty first half of the play: walking out, we heard several patrons complain that the second part wasn’t as funny as the first one. King John isn’t that well known and apparently the shenanigans at the beginning led some to believe they were watching a comedy which resulted in disappointment later on.

Speaking of shanenigans, if you are on Twitter you might want to check out the Ladies of Angiers (#ladiesofangiers) to see what they have been up to in Stratford in the last months.

One issue I had with the play: if that’s the way Austrians are being treated in Stratford now we might have to reconsider future visits 😉

Mother Courage and Her Children

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Seen: September 6 (Matinée), Tom Patterson Theatre

Cast: Seana McKenna, E.B. Smith, Antoine Yared, Carmen Grant, Randy Hughson, Wayne Best, Sean Arbuckle, Geraint Wyn Davies, Ben Carlson, Peter Hutt, Daniel Briere, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Jennifer Mogbock, Anthony Malarky, André Morin, Brad Rudy, Karack Osborn, Stephen Russell, Jamie Mac, Andrew Lawrie, Ryan Field, Brigit Wilson, Patricia Collins, Andrew Robinson, Cal Potter, Laura Burton

Directed by Martha Henry

Firstly, apologies for the delay in writing this. Not only were we running around like headless chickens during our time left in Toronto, for some reason it’s possible to get a decent internet connection in Stratford but not in the big city, so I couln’t have uploaded the remaining two reviews anyway. If you can read this, the connection over the pond was stronger 😉

We are currently getting shaken through over Newfoundland on the way to London where we are going to see The Crucible at the Old Vic later today and Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios tomorrow night before going back to Vienna (and a live screening of A Streetcar Named Desire), so there will be more posts some time next week.

There seems to be a second motto in Stratford this season next to ‚Minds Pushed to the Edge‘: Actors Mingling with the Audience. Before Mother Courage and her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) started, some of the actors were walking around, chatting up unsuspecting patrons.

The stage was bare except for a chopping block and a ramp and of course once the play got underway Mother Courage’s wagon – both home and business to her and her children.

I have to admit I don’t care much for Bert Brecht or the play. German can be a harsh sounding language at the best of times, to me Brecht manages to make it sound downright ugly. I was still willing to give Mother Courage another try, not only because my sister wanted to see it and I was courious how it would be handled, but also because it’s sadly very current again with all the conflicts rising up in the last years. And of course it was performed in English.

When the cast and director were announced, it was getting clear that the play was in very good hands. Martha Henry is not only a great actress, but once more proved that she’s brilliant behind the scenes too. Seana McKenna is a formidable Mother Courage who almost made me sympathise with the character. Carmen Grant, Ben Carlson and Geraint Wyn-Davies are not just accompanying her along the way and help illustrate different phases and relationships in her life, their characters are all interesting and important to the story in their own right. Grant’s Kattrin is speaking volumes without a single line of text.

While I am never going to be a fan of Brecht’s, I actually really liked this simply staged and well-acted production and really recommend it.

PS: ‚Fichtelgebirge‘ really isn’t pronounced like that 😉

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

2014-09-06 16.06.31 Seen: September 5, Festival Theatre

Cast: Bethany Jillard, Liisa Repo-Martell, Tara Rosling, Mike Shara, Scott Wentworth, Maev Beaty, Michael Blake, Michael Spencer-Davis, Derek Moran, Stephen Ouimette, Karl Ang, Lally Cadeau, Keith Dinicol, Victor Ertmanis, Brad Hodder, Evan Buliung, Jonathan Goad, Chick Reid, Charlie Rose Neis, Hazel Martell-Abraham, Graci Leahy, Isabella Castillo, Brooklyn Rickert, Josh Buchwald, Savita Brickman-Maxwell, Gabriel Long, Josue Laboucane, Thomas Olajide, Thomas Ryder Payne

Directed by Chris Abraham

One of the countless things I love so much about the Stratford Festival is that you never know what you are getting and was that true for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upon entering the auditorium, you are part of a garden party wedding, with decorations at the end of every second aisle and actors mingling with the patrons coming in until the play starts. That’s about as far as I will go concerning production spoilers (except for some info that was revealed in the Q&A after the performance) because I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone who is still going to see this play.

The best way to describe this production is probably that you have to see it to believe it – which also fits Evan Buliung’s Titania. Buliung and Jonathan Goad are alternating the roles of Titania and Oberon. September 5, Buliung was the swishy-dressed Titania, while Goad seemed to have a lot of fun playing a deliciously diabolical Oberon. As much as Stephen Ouimette dialled down his melancholy fool in King Lear, he cranked it up to 11 as Daddio of the Patio – better known as Bottom – in this one. He really got to show off his comedic chops, as did Mike Shara as Demetrius, Liisa Repo-Martell as Helena, Bethany Jillard as Hermia, Tara Rosling as Lysander and Chick Reid as Puck.

In case you are planning to see this play with a theatre-reluctant Star Wars fan, there is something in there for those too. I mentioned in my review of Man of La Mancha that I never laughed so much in a theatre as few years back at Pirates of Penzance at the Avon. That was nothing compared to last night. My abs and face hurt from laughing so hard for such a long time. There is a healthy dose of irony and sarcasm in the play and all the chaos is performed so perfectly, time flies by and suddenly it’s over.

The shortest way to sum up this production is ‚utterly brilliant‘.

Before I go on to the spoilerish As from the Q&A, one note for those who might be interested: there will be an ASL performance on September 20.

Bethany Jillard and Evan Buliung kindly participated in a Q&A after Friday’s performance. One of the first questions was if this production was going to be filmed. Disappointingly, it is not which is a crying shame. And don’t try to tell me it’s because of the music rights, I know there’s a way to clear this stuff, I used to do it.

One other question that tied in with something we actually experienced during the show was if there had been backlash for the production being rather progressive. Sadly, the reply was a clear ‚yes‘. Apparently the fact that there are same-sex couples and a guy in a dress causes patrons to yell out things, leave to come back and shout ‚may God have mercy on your souls‘ then leave again, and entire school classes to walk out. A lady behind us started to shout ‚this is ridiculous‘ at the use of sign language. Lady, if you don’t like it, shut up and air your grievances during interval or after the show, not during. Also please refrain from then being as noisy a possible, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable once you’re older than 2. The couple in front of us left during interval, every one else around us however seemed to have the time of their lives.

I was flabbergasted that school classes were walking out. Maybe teachers unable or unwilling to have serious discussions with their students after a visit to the theatre should think about what kind of values they are supposedly teaching. I’m 38 now and sometimes I really think we are going backwards.

On an entirely different note; I had no idea there were not enough signs in ASL to actually sign Shakespeare properly. The actors had to develop and improvise some things with their interpreters, who are currently working on an encyclopedia that is supposed to make Shakespeare accessible in the future. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still on until October 11, click here for tickets: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24197&prodid=52393

King Lear

2014-09-05 04.00.55

Seen: September 4 (Matinée), Festival Theatre, Stratford Ontario

Cast: Colm Feore, Maev Beaty, Sara Farb, Liisa Repo-Martell, Stephen Ouimette, Jonathan Goad, Scott Wentworth, Evan Buliung, Brad Hodder, Michael Blake, Mike Shara, Thomas Olajide, Karl Ang, Derek Morgan, Xuan Fraser, Robert King, Josue Laboucane, Gordon S. Miller, Michael Spencer-Davis

Directed by Antoni Cimonlino

This was our second King Lear this year as well as the second one we have seen in Stratford. Even though the last time we saw this play here – also in the Festival Theatre – the production was underwhelming (no actor taking on the titular role should be allowed to direct it as well), it was never a question whether we wanted to see this production or not. Firstly, it’s Lear, secondly, the cast list is insane. Stratford regulars Colm Feore, Stephen Ouimette, Jonathan Goad, Scott Wentworth, Evan Buliung and Mike Shara on one stage was just too good to pass up.

Speaking of insane: not only is this version of Lear definitely cookoo (in contrast to Simon Russell Beale’s who was suffering from dementia), but so are the performances. I’ve seen Colm Feore in a lot of Stratford productions before, but this was an entirely different league.  No matter if he was angry, mad or desperate, he was always absolutely believable. Little touches like the left boot not being pulled up properly after the journey from Goneril to Regan helped illustrate the downward spiral.

It was great to see Scott Wentworth again, who was superb as Gloucester as well as Stephen Ouimette as a nicely understated fool. Actually, Jonathan Goad (still my favourite Iago) as Kent was a lot funnier than the fool.

The thunderstorm before and after intermission was extremely well done (and went on more quitely in the auditorium throughout the break). The only issue with it was that some people in the audience around us had trouble hearing what was being said on stage and yelled over the noise to ask each other who was on stage and what they were saying, so the actors were drowned out by those ‚considerate‘ folks.

That the behaviour of select members of the audience is the only bad thing I can say about this production should speak volumes. The play extended its run until October 25, so if you have a chance to go to Stratford and see this production, go online now and book your tickets before they are gone.  http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/BoxOffice/calendar.aspx?id=85

Still to come: Midsummernight’s Dream, Mother Courage, King John (all Stratford), The Crucible (Old Vic, London) and Richard III (Trafalgar, London)

Man of La Mancha

2014-09-05 04.01.56

Seen: September 3, Avon Theatre

Cast: Matt Alfano, Matthew Armet, Shane Carty, Stephen Cota, Paul Duncan, Harry Edison, Sean Alexander Hauk, Robin Hutton, Kayla James, Galen Johnson, Monique Lund, Ayrin Mackie, Chad McFadden, Marcus Nance, Cory O’Brien, Stephen Patterson, Kevin Ramessar, Kimberley Rampersad, Tom Rooney, Steve Ross, Jason Sermonia, Shawn Wright

Directed by Robert McQueen

My sister and I started going to the Stratford Festival (back then still the Shakespeare Festival of Canada) more than a decade ago when I was finally deemed old enough to rent a car with a European drivers license. We returned almost every year since (it is quite a distance from Vienna, so it doesn’t always work out) and are bringing a friend with us for the third time now. I’m starting to think the Festival is affiliated with the Borg – resistance is futile.

First up in this year’s edition of our annual-ish visit was Man of La Mancha starring Tom Rooney in the roles of Miguel de Cervantes and his creations Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana, Robin Hutton as Aldonza/Dulcinea and Steve Ross as Sancho Panza/Manservant.

For someone who doesn’t consider herself a big fan of musicals, I surely watch a lot of them at Stratford. That could be because they haven’t disappointed me yet. On the contrary, their stellar production of Jesus Christ Superstar a few years back garnered so much critical acclaim and attention, it went on to Broadway. I also couldn’t say when I had as much fun in a theatre as two years ago at the Pirates of Penzance.

Man of La Mancha didn’t disappoint either. Even before the actors arrived on stage, the stage setting was a sight to behold. It’s incredible what the set designers and carpenters at Stratford create every year.

The musical itself stands and falls with the lead and the always wonderful Tom Rooney carries it with grace, stage presence and a set of pipes I didn’t know he had, having seen him only in plays before. I had a serious case of goosebumps during The Impossible Dream and judging from the audience’s reaction, I wasn’t the only one. Rooney brings something different to author and showman Cervantes, the knight of the woeful countenance and the frail old man respectively.

Steve Ross was a delightful Sancho Panza, who knew when to dial back so he didn’t end up just the comic relief, but had some really touching moments too. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Robin Hutton. Her Aldonza was one-dimensionally angry at times, without any shades where there could have been some and had issues with some higher notes at the beginning, that she managed to hit just so, but she sounded unintentionally shrill in some parts. At least I hope that wasn’t planned, I’m not a fan of atonality and wouldn’t expect it in a musical that is not about Schönberg.

The supporting cast was great, unfortunately this musical isn’t written in a way that gives them ample time to shine. Having seen Marcus Nance in action before, I have to say he was grossly underused.

Our seats were on the balcony, and there was one big fight scene where I wondered if anyone had bothered to watch it from up there during rehearsals. It is however probably close to impossible to stage such a scene in a way that it looks like an actual fight from all angles, so I’m not griping about this too much.

All in all, it was a very entertaining evening that left the Avon Theatre’s patrons humming the way down the stairs and probably all the way back to their accomodations.

Steve Ross was a guest in Stratford Festival Review‘s podcast. If you want to hear about his journey so far, have a listen here http://theinadequatelife.com/2014/10/