Stratford 2008

I will just do a quick dust over of our cultural omelette. A mixed omelette it was.

Palmer Park

An unusual subject for a Canadian Saskatchewan born authoress Joanna McClelland Glass. The McGuffin in this odd preachy seminar is that a Detroit suburb would flourish as integrated only if the percentages of 65 white and 35 black remained constant. Perhaps so, but a wobbly hypothetical.

Apparently the black paediatrician’s wife, Yanna McIntosh, once played Condoleezza Rice and it was boffo! I wish I’d seen it. This role is not enough of a stretch for her.

The best ‘theatre is the bare bones illusion of public meetings — either a shadow lectern with a union leader “chiselling” on the point, or viewing through a gauze curtain the black education chairperson coping with hostility.

At the end a cultural summary, a personal summary all declaimed from separate poles of the stage which reduces interactive theatre to monologues.

Still, I’m glad I saw it.

The Trojan Women

By Euripides 415 B.C. — get that — 415 B.C.

It begins badly with Poseidon and Athena in modern uniform declaiming, as amateur players. It picks up, Martha Henry playing to her strength, deep resentment, doom phrases. She has the cadence.

Kelly Fox (a lead in Palmer Park) plays Cassandra, does a dance, she shouldn’t.

Ironically one of the best dances seen was in the daily morning Shakespeare’s Universe outdoors in the round by one Dayna Tekatch (the maid). She’s also assistant choreographer in the Sound of Music. This little company had superb movement although the theme was verbally and ear challenging.

Yanna McIntosh is really sexy here as Helen, so much so that Palmer Park is a mousy surprise.

Seana McKenna is so beautiful to observe, all English fair skin, high forehead, erect, piercing eyes. Always special.

One Joyce Campion, tiny and wizened is one of the women shuffling about but a surprisingly clear voice. She has to be 76 at least.

The Taming of the Shrew

The two female leads sing at the beginning (my husband’s got no courage in him, a ballad of the time) without back-up about unsuccessful marriage. The voices so clear so witty it is the nub of this company’s greatness, versatility, novelty, talent (Irene Poole as Katherina and Adrienne Gould as Bianca).

This play with its experienced cast just crackles along. The set — a two storey wooden building pushed back and forth, making it abundantly clear that the ‘thrust’ Shakespeare stage is a thing of the past for this company as of now.

Ben Carlson, this year’s Hamlet, plays Tranio, a rather pedestrian part but he’s there to keep the plot rolling. One night all fevered introspective gabble as Hamlet then a minor lynchpin role, relatively straight.

Lucy Peacock of The Blonde, The Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead fame engages us with fast talk, sparkling eye and twittering flicking fingers as Grumio. She is mesmerizing and physically different, neither young nor old, but mature white hair, health and a personality sitting on the edge of perpetual laugh.

Evan Buliung as Petruchio is not quite right — I can’t put my finger on it — he has to be rough but there is not even the possibility of charm or do I mean softness?

However, the fantastic turn of this show is Irene Poole’s theatrical argument, sum up of the virtue of submitting to husband. The bravery of her ‘occupying’ the stage, harking forth the bald angled argument stuns. A showstopper. Not easy.

Hamlet

Maybe as I age I tend to find Lear and Hamlet irritating — both silly talkative egocentric twits.

Upon exit I felt the play a surfeit of fast gabbled speech, and surprise, much of it new to me. I have studied this play as annotated by John Dover Wilson footnote by footnote. Yet this intense work proved little as many parts were novel to my ear.

Five themes resonate.

One:     Ophelia usually a middling force at best, plays and dances in the mad scene, hugs the front steps of the stage — a cry of insanity. Sufficient to match Lady Macbeth.
Two:     Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia is physically violent. He says in this, “get thee to the nunnery” three times — twice more than I recalled. Wilson points out 3.1.12 ‘nunnery’ was a bawdy house.
Three:  Carlsen’s “To be or not to be” considered the hardest soliloquy of all because of audience lip moving participation was fresh with a rhythm that allowed the pearls to remain a sparkle — ‘The insolence of office’ …. ‘to grunt and sweat under a weary life’.
Four:    Scott Wentworth as Claudius over a pool table, chalking the stick, sidling close to Laertes, the cosy confines of conspiracy — oh he’s good.

Weigh what convenience both
     of time and means
May fit us to our shape.  4.7.148

Five:     The sword fight, exciting and dangerous. You flinch at the risk these actors are courting. Claudius stubbed, pulled, pushed to the edge of the stage, head over the first step, dead for a good eight minutes till the play ends.

Fuente Ovejuna

Written by Lope de Vega in 1612, it is one of his 1000 plays. The Patterson stage captures the violence of war and Wentworth as the wicked Guzman steals the show with a bravura near ham performance. Sneer, stiff commanding arm, ready to find insult, quick to war, proud in conquering, greedy in sucking the fruits of victory — all evil incarnate. So much so that when he takes his bow, he smiles as the aged audience flutters a pretend ‘boo!’ to him.

This was fine theatre. You learned of a new playwright, the plot was not complicated nor a line of real poetry in the work. All workman-like prose hurtling the plot along. At the end and after on the banks of the river, people are cheerily repeating the lyric “Fuente Ovejuna!” Fortunately there were some students there.

What registers is the immense scope of these actors. Take Sara Topham, a woman of fragile innocent teardrop beauty. She as Laurencia is raped and returns to the stage a bloodied mess. She harangues the townspeople with merciless scorn. Then two nights later I see her dance, dance, dance (a Shirley MacLaine hoofer) in the Music Man, glasses, pigtail, Iowa creamed innocence. Here she is primarily a dancer (she is #18 in the credits and her speaking role is equally limited). My but can she dance — up, out, bend — oh the spring of youth!

Jonathan Goad plays a bloodied Frondoso, ready for the hanging and enduring the rack. Now, two nights later, Professor Harold Hill!!! 76 Trombones. All you people in River City, trouble, trouble, trouble …! A fine easy singer with a soft shoe turn.

Here, Seana McKenna has a limited role as Queen Isabella. Still, she looks as ever, great.

James Blendick as the Mayor of Fuente Ovejuna, has never been better. He often slips into avuncular polished rumination but here he is passionate, direct, with short sentences.

A surprise is one Robert Persichini as Mengo, a peasant poet who suffers the rack. He carries the performance with each of his turns and he is immensely fat, so much so you think it is a prop — no it’s not. But get this, in the program he is the understudy for Carlson in Hamlet!

The Music Man

This is a musical company assured, perky all Broadway crackle to the dance. The Avon a small stage does not hinder the electricity of this musical. They can actually recreate the feeling of River City, Iowa. I’ve spoken of Topham and Goad before, but the stage brims with surprises.

Fiona Reid who has suffered ill health is a comedienne beyond match. A single rolling eye enthrals the audience. This country I trust appreciates her immense talent.

This company keeps unveiling surprises. Here one Eddie Glen, plump, red haired, a dancing trombone player just glows the joint up.

The singing star is one Leah Oster playing Marion the Librarian. She looks (blush in cheek, British reticence) and sounds like the young Julie Andrews of the Sound of Music. Her voice trills — yes trills! I see she played in Peter Pan at the Shaw (although Jamie Mainprize and the rest knew little of her). Her only weakness is she can’t really compete with the Shirley MacLaine hoofers.

I am embarrassed to say years ago as a director of Stratford I fatuously opined they wouldn’t be able to perform real musicals!

Caesar and Cleopatra

What staging! Away with the thrust, all sphinx paws and black marble floor. Plummer, 78, patrician, good humoured. I, now 71, am really pulling for him. He doesn’t disappoint but he also doesn’t physically exert himself. He sits or stands relatively still, no hurtling to the ramparts for him.

The play sounds pure George Bernard Shaw, with digs at Italians, send-ups on the early Britons, amusing observations of the tactics of political persuasion. It is so much easier to follow than Shakespeare.

Nikki M. James, an American, plays the young childish Cleopatra perfectly. When she ‘matures’ under tutelage and stress her dialogue is less pleasant.

Peter Donaldson, pound for pound, the most dependable male company regular is perfect as a plodding loyal soldier. He captures the military careful mentality. So skilful you don’t really notice it with the dazzle of Plummer.

Diane D’Aquila, a near fat servant to Cleopatra, menaces, looking a little like the wicked witch of the west, once played a sexy Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra. But fat or not (and in real life, C. David Johnson’s former wife she’s not) she sure grabs the stage.

What a wonderful company. The staging in this is the hit of the plays — it will linger in the mind longest. The descending Egyptian gold blackbird with retreating arms, the gold prow of Caesar’s takeaway barge. They’ll stick.

With all the humour there is a serious theme of world politics: “To the end of history murder shall breed murder always in the name of right and honour and peace …”

Simon Callow — The Sonnets

Callow is one of my heroes. I have read all his books, one on acting. He once, in about 1981, did all 154 sonnets (reading them) in one afternoon and night performance. A disaster because it was too much.

The sonnets are tough. If you read them, phrases divert you and force your eye to search for an explanation and the flow is lost as is any possible meaning. The sonnets do not have as many pithy quotes as the plays. The meter is strict, and cannot be varied,

Abab
Cdcd
Efef
then two at the end.

He does about 75 and I can follow 60 of them, some a revelation. This is an extraordinary performance because Callow is hemmed in by the precise words without any variation whatsoever and the meter.

We see this one night after Dylan Thomas’ Under the Milkwood Tree which allowed the performer to wiggle.