Three Days in the Country

DSCN2137

seen 28 August 2015, Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre), London

by Patrick Marber; a version of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country

Day one of our mini theatre break saw us finally watch a play in the National Theatre instead of just watching it on the big screen or letting our credit cards smoke in their book shop as usual. After getting up at half past four in the morning to get the first flight to London, we appreciated the comfy seats in the Lyttelton a lot.

I have to admit having steered more or less clear of ‘the Russians’ after having had to inhale ten of the standards (think Brothers Karamazov and their ilk) within a week for my finals at school. There’s only so much tragedy I can take in such short time and with little exceptions, I don’t feel drawn to them when they are performed on stage. In this case, we were drawn in by the casting and early reviews and ended up more than happy with our decision.

Of course, this being a Russian play from the mid 1800s, there is more unrequited love than at your average One Direction concert, but it’s infinitely more fun. Continue reading

Othello

Live_From_Othello_Web_Image_243x317

Seen August 26 2015, Haydn English Cinema Vienna

Directed by Iqbal Khan

Firstly, apologies to my regular readers for the lack of new content recently. My day job made it impossible to find the time to write up a review of the last live broadcast, The Merchant of Venice. Not that there was much so say about it except for it relying too heavily on Patsy Ferran and Shylock being too smirkily knife-happy for my taste with no visible conflict, but festered rage and bitterness instead. Pity, this can be done so much better as proven by Graham Greene’s dignified Shylock in the other Stratford in 2007.

We went to London last weekend to see Three Days in the Country and Hamlet (yes, that one) however and I hope I can squeeze in a night at the theatre during a business trip to London in a few weeks, so there is new stuff coming up.

But now on to the next of the bard’s plays that can be problematic to stage nowadays: Othello. Let’s start with what we see first: Continue reading

Possible Worlds

 

Ontario 2015 003a

Seen July 1 2015, Studio Theatre, Stratford Ontario (first preview)

Written by John Mighton

Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Possible Worlds marked not only the 7th and last play of this year’s visit to Stratford, but also the 50th performance (48th production) we saw here. Not bad, considering we started with day trips. Thursday morning, we’re off to Toronto and Saturday back over the pond to Vienna. Way too soon once again.

Upon entering the Studio Theatre, you find yourself looking at the liquid version of the lower stage,  Continue reading

Oedipus Rex

Ontario 2015 001a

Seen June 30 2015, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Ontario (first preview)

Written by Sophocles, translated by Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay

Directed by Daniel Brooks

When leaving the Tom Patterson Theatre last night, a gentleman behind us remarked ‘I hope this gets good reviews. I liked it.’. Let’s see what I can do about that, even though I doubt he was talking about amateur blogs.

The play is a rather short one, running one hour 45 minutes. It also sports the longest list of warnings I can remember having seen at the entrance, ranging from the usual haze, smoke and profanity to prolonged full nudity. There is no Intermission, so consider braving the washroom queue.

I thought the story of Oedipus was well-known, but overhearing some patrons in the theatre, it seems  a spoiler warning is needed after all. I am also going to massively break my ‘no production spoilers’ rule, so be warned. Please bear in mind that this was the first preview, so things might still be tweaked.

At the start of the play, there’s a metal rolling table with matching desk chair on stage, with 6 (I think) chairs on either long side of the thrust stage. Those are used throughout the play as needed, along with very few other props.

Gord Rand’s king Oedipus appears in an egg shell coloured suit, in stark contrast to the dark grey suited citizens. The entire setting looked a lot like a CEO meeting with members of the board, although the percentage of women would have been too optimistic for that. For quite some time, Oedipus and the red robed priestess are the only ones wearing colour.

Yanna McIntosh and Lally Cadeau get to wear blue for a short time and Jocasta and Oedipus’ young daughters Antigone and Ismene innocent white. Along with some dramatic red lighting when things get bloody, the only other splash of colour is Nigel Bennett’s Teiresias who is a true ray of hippyish sunshine in the play’s sea of grey and proves the saying that there are no small parts right once again.

The industrial corporate setting is supported by a repetitive, monotone sound design that frankly started to grate very early on. At least it allowed my poor sister who caught a cold to sneeze and blow her nose undetected once she had figured out the pattern. I was sitting right next to her and was suprised about the amount of tissues amassed at the end.

The other thing I wasn’t too thrilled about falls into the sound category as well. Having the citizens use a microphone for their declarations seemed unnecessary and frankly was mixed so poorly, especially when Brad Hodder was at the mic, that it was physically painful.

The performances were solid across the board with Nigel Bennett standing out as mentioned above, as well as Christopher Morris. Actually, his portrayal of steadfast Kreon was what I would have liked to see in Hamlet’s Horatio.

However, all the cast’s combined effort would have been naught without titular Oedipus pulling his weight. Gord Rand really knocked it out of the park and was believable from brash, almost arrogant king in the beginning, growing more and more nervous throughout the play. The desparation brought on by having his suspicions confirmed right up to the jarring finale that has Oedipus blind, bleeding and naked begging to be banished to save the people of Thebes from the plague had everyone at the edges of their seats. Cudos also to the make up department; I couldn’t entirely figure out how the eyes were done for the finale.

All in all, it was a good production elevated by a phenomenal lead actor. I’m looking forward to reading the reviews to see if anything changed once the play officially opens. For now, I am glad we decided to stay in Stratford long enough to catch Oedipus Rex and Possible Worlds.

She Stoops to Conquer

Ontario 2015 027

Written by Oliver Goldsmith

Directed by Martha Henry

Seen June 25 2015, Avon Theatre, Stratford Ontario

This post Restauration comedy was the first in our trio of comedies. I am actually not that big a fan of the genre and often find dramatic plays funnier (see Hamlet), but this almost screwball comedy made for a nice evening of light entertainment.

At least I am categorising as ‘light’, because otherwise I’d have to ask why Continue reading

The Adventures of Pericles

Ontario 2015 003

Seen June24 2015, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Ontario

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Scott Wentworth

Stratford’s pledge to perform Shakespeare‘s entire canon within the next decade gives the opportunity to (re)discover plays that are not often performed. Last year, King John was one of the biggest surprises for us, so we didn’t hestiate to get tickets for Pericles.

I have to admit not really knowing the play, but from what I read about the original text so far, there must have been a vast amount of editing necessary. The title character Pericles, a prince, has a knack for getting lost at sea and ending up in different kingdoms. The kings and princesses he encounters are brilliantly played by Wayne Best and Deborah Hay, who even ends up playing Pericles‘ daughter Marina.

Having the actors portray several characters was a clever play by director Scott Wentworth, who also added Diane (Marion Adler) instead of the Chorus as a link between the kingdoms and storylines. Unfortunately, some didn’t realise what was going on; the ladies in front of me in the line for the washrooms complained about the kings and their daughters looking too similar and thought, they should have cast actors that looked less alike. Whoopsie.

I thought the differences in the characters were well acted, so I wasn’t confused. Our friend who didn’t know about it beforehand said she needed a moment to realise after the first switch, but then it was all good. And she’d like to add that the incest storyline was disgusting. Which Pericles apparently thought as well, getting out of there as quickly as possible.

What the play itself may lack, direction and actors compensated for. It was a suspensful production that also made most with very little props and I’d like to give special kudos to Sean Arbuckle, who stepped in as the title character Pericles for Evan Buliung the evening we saw the play.

Of course the cast does play a role in choosing which plays to watch – along with the director – but in the end, the play’s the thing. When I read that the role of Pericles was to be played by Sean Arbuckle instead of Evan Buliung for the performance we went to, I wasn’t worried in the least. After all, who better to have adventures at sea than a former pirate king?

If I was a betting woman, I’d wager that several people in the audience didn’t even realise the actor playing Pericles wasn’t the guy hired to do so every night. It also highlights the wealth of good actors this company has. This wasn’t the first time we got to see an understudy shine in a title role in Stratford.

The only thing that irks me about it is that I’m always left wondering what the other actor would have done differently and cursing the fact that I can’t just come back later in the season to rewatch the play, but that’s what we call complaining on a high level.

If you want to see a Shakespeare play where you don’t think you know everything that is going to happen, go see The Adventures of Pericles.