Stratford 2005

Hamlet directed by Ziegler

Soulpepper Theatre — Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hamlet is a tough play — tough on the actors, tough on the audience.

Soulpepper’s last preview before opening night lacked perhaps an opening night frisson.

Horatio who opens the play is vital and done by Oliver Dennis, who gives it a feasible beginning involving the ghost — difficult to portray conversation with a non-talking ghost. He does not exhibit his usual stumbling Jacques Tati humour but portrays ‘scared’ without extremes. Difficult.

Next Polonius — prissy, concerned father (William Webster) is arresting when he advises Laertes, stupidly dictatorial with Ophelia. He is a glue in the play until his behind the arras death.

Ophelia is a strange role. She is bewildered and hurt, yet not much more can be portrayed. Unless the audience is sophisticated they will not know ‘get thee to a nunnery’ means a brothel. It is hurled three times by Hamlet and because she is so elfin and hurt, one thinks a real nunnery is apt.

The queen, played by Nancy Palk is right up her regal alley. Yet with immense skill she plays a lint-picking mother to Hamlet. She is caught between two forces, her quick marriage perhaps one of rebound from grief. Both regal and convincing concerned mother — now that’s a trick. She is not a lioness, but patrician.

Her description of Ophelia dead in the water is startlingly clear, as clear as the river water embalming Ophelia. You can see it — feel the weeds.

Albert Shultz’s Hamlet is full of energy and a feeling of action which eclipses many of his contemplative musings. His “to be or not to be” is lucid, direct and simple. Everything he says is clear.

The sword fight with Laertes is conducted with a sweeping energy and semi-laughing brio. It is quite scary as the sabres appear careening out of orbit. I assume he decided that the peppiness at the end shouldn’t be a surprise or out of character. Shultz’ instructions to the players is given as a director might do it, fluid, smiles, a concerned movement, touching of actors — confidence, pretending to think and listen but really rolling out the persuasive role.

All play dead well. It is interesting that the arriving Prince Fortinbras surveying the slaughter has no regal presence. It is a very small role, a sort of William Needles part, but in Fortinbras there may be a weak monarch.

Joseph Ziegler directs AND plays both the ghost and gravedigger. He gives a change of pace in the digger role which is a welcome breather.

The to and froing between King, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to advance the plot is boring, no matter how quirky Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, the parts are merely a mechanical moveron of essential plot.

The Measure of Love

A new play developed for and by Stratford by Nicholas Billon which was first unveiled in December, 2003.

Fiona Reid as a sister of the Roman Catholic Church plays a 57 year old introspective nun who in the small studio theatre recreates an intimate setting of recollection and revival of teenage memories with an actress friend played by Diane Leblanc, a rather faded, delicate Martha Henry or Reid of years ago.

The memories are of the playing of Romeo and Juliet in an American convent school wherein the lives were bastardized to suit Roman Catholic sensibilities.

I set out the contrasting ‘version’ of Romeo’s “and death’s pale flag is not advanced there” speech over Juliet’s body.

When the Roman Catholic ‘version’ is re-enacted by Reid it is so awkward that one feels it is bad acting.

Fiona Reid is a huge talent — she can in fact sing very well. Here she is gawky, introspective, quiet and innately shy. She has google eyes, as if a thyroid is acting up, which create a timid, slow, startled visage.

The play is about (according to my old friend Jean-Louis Roux, the director of it) the themes of time and memory. Diane Leblanc plays an aging actress who is losing her memory and wishes to set some history between her and her long ago childhood friend aright.

It is interesting on that level and the imperfection of memory, the revelation of hidden past thoughts — BUT the performance roars to a misting climax when Fiona Reid, playing Romeo, performs the real Shakespeare speech over a ‘dead’ Juliet. It illustrates at a stroke that women can play men’s roles in Shakespeare  naturally.

Just a whomper!

Anna comments forcefully that I have missed the point — the two girls in high school had a lesbian relationship. It slipped over my curly head.

Ruth Draper on Tour

Ruth Draper on Tour is a showcase performance for Lally Cadeau who does perhaps 15 independent monologue parts from the performing life of Ruth Draper (1884-1956). She took her tour around the world. The ‘Deviser’ of this Raymond O’Neill cobbled it together from her actual performances. Cadeau is a plumpish semi-matronly beauty who has a range vast and subtle. She can speak five languages and the Italian skit has such staccato that it gives Cecilia Bartoli a good run. (Anna points out with some restrained scorn that Cadeau speaks ‘pretend’ languages, a subtlety which has passed me by.)

I find a series of monologues on the stage becomes mimicry without interaction with other actors. The Walkers and Anna disagreed, said I was obtuse. Virginia thought Anna Russell had once done the gardening skit (a British land owner lady misdescribing flowers past and future in her garden). They LOVED IT.

Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure was a triumph — perhaps the top hit of the shows.

I loved the interaction of players and the audience before the show actually started. Elbow came up to us and discoursed about the Count coming for maybe 6 or 7 minutes — making jokes as he went. The Duke sits up with his champagne watching the nightclub act in the bowels of the audience. Lucio interrupts the Duke from the audience and is hurled back to the audience. The narrow Patterson stage is a natural for this.

The play has a galaxy of funny and serious performers.

The funny: Lucio, a prating ass; Mistress Overdone, an impecunious pink dressed bawd; Elbow a malaprop constable; Barnardine, an argumentative drunken prisoner; and Pompey, the slippery tapster to Mistress Overdone.

The serious: The Duke, oleaganous, concerned yet maybe not so concerned; Escalus, the honest civil servant; Provost, the gentle jail keeper; Isabella, the earnest preaching idealist; Claudio, just a trapped victim in a system; and of course Angelo, moralist turned rancid.

Measure for Measure is full of law, describing statutes, rules, the effect of harsh treatment, the morality of punishment and the disaster of rhetoric of law without any substance. The result in Vienna was a stew of corruption, which is a play on the word “stews” meaning brothels.

Isabella in her earnest speech about virginity never being for sale makes a high school declaration, all serious punctuated and sawing arms. Bluma Appel’s daughter-in-law said their 17 year old daughter had done the part in Upper Canada College. Exactly. Yet it worked. Jonathan Goad as Angelo is a virile brylcreamed force. He nearly rapes Isabella in a surge of passion, whopping her on a metal table. He is all control, and the lack of control creeping through his body is struggling to burst out.

The Duke’s forgiveness is a complicated Shakespearian deal in which each party gains but perhaps loses also. All artificial which makes the forgiveness notion at best unconvincing.

Dana Green plays Isabella, able, earnest, yet a young pristine beautiful. The change of her character in Orpheus Descending is a quantum leap.

Thom Marriott as the Duke is a complicated slyster peddling equity with a large pinch of sexual demand. The ultimate raison d’etre impassioned speech by Isabella, succeeds against Angelo but will fail against the horny Duke. Again, this is a tilted, tinted glass performance. When he plays the sheriff in Orpheus, he is as direct and brutal as an oak plank.

Whether the play really copes with excess of mercy as opposed to excess of retribution really doesn’t matter. The chemistry of the cast and the quick lines literally fizz.

Orpheus Descending

Surprise, surprise! Orpheus Descending is all that theatre can be!

Tennessee Williams in a play which years ago flopped — not now at Stratford.

Jonathan Goad the ‘hero’ of Measure for Measure, plays a guitar as if born to the strings. He sits, casual, smoking, all contained, southern — not at all hysterical southern just reflective and contained. He walks surely, fills his clothes, and moves at ease with his skin. The persona is complete.

Seana McKenna plays an Italian American with a consistent accent (it sounded Polish) but the hand gestures, the eyes, the turn of the shoulders — a brilliant overall portrayal of a nearly aging lady. She becomes a fierce Ironess at the end reminiscent of her regal roles in the War of the Roses plays.

Surprise; Fiona Reid as a gossipy waitress with red hair, and skittering walk. The best acting of an engaged tut-tutter I have EVER seen.

As ever with his stage, much goes on in the entrances and side exits. There Reid tut-tutting the slut actress on stage who is a beauty, blonde, gammy and lo and behold it is Dana Green of Isabella pristine femme. Such a change from Measure for Measure where she is a Marlo Thomas, to here — a young Faye Dunaway.

Scott Wentworth, silent, direct, taciturn, not a shred of overacting has a brief part.

The Count of Measure for Measure has a small important role as Sheriff. Pure blunt restrained power, muted hate.

McKenna and Goad earn a standing ovation — they earn it. The play is raw and crystal clear — somewhat of a relief after arcane Shakespeare.

Goad knows silence and how to allow another actor to say their lines without crowding. Lord he’s good, so much so it is easy, or it appears so. Also, he appears true.

The set is a coffee/liquor saloon of the 30s — a long bar projecting to the audience. A perfect foil for actors to play through it, over it and around it.

This is a good illustration of the repertoire aspect of Stratford.

Wentworth and Michelle Giroux (who has a walk-on as Nurse Porter) play two of the main roles the next night in Edward II.

Here Marriott as Sheriff has a very small but significant role as compared to his huge role in Measure for Measure.

Fiona Reid is miles from her Measure of Love here. Southern accent, vulgar, red hair, mean reflecting small mindedness.

Edward II

Stratford for the first time puts on Marlowe’s Edward II.

The summary says: “As the tide of fortune turns against the King, events move remorselessly toward a horrific conclusion”. Well, yes this is so albeit slightly understated. They shove a red hot poker up Eddie’s rectum. The mere memory of it makes my mouth turn to a squinched circle with puffed breath.

Marlowe died at 29, at Deptford 1593. Edward II was written when he was 27.

Edward was a homosexual in love with Piers Gaveston. The play starts with very graphic sex. The King in a gold conical robe, on the floor in the shape of a tepee or triangle, with Gaveston inside it getting into a LOT of trouble with Edward.

The play is quite clear, no hidden allusions here. Monette directs it and says in his notes — which is evident in the play, “Edward II is more barbaric and less compassionate than Richard II. The characters have less subtlety and the poetry is less delicate.”

Sure is. Richard II has a soliloquy I think 12 minutes long, the longest of any soliloquy in Shakespeare about relinquishing his crown.

Richard talks about losing the crown and/or dying in the following scenes:

– Act 3, Scene 2, l. 76-215
– Act 3, Scene 3, l. 73-218
Let’s talk of graves or worms
     and epitaphs

… Let us sit up on the ground
And tell sad stories of the
death of Kings!

…What must the King do now?
Must he submit
The King shall do it. Must he be deposed?

… and my large Kingdom for a
little grave.
A little little grave, an obscure grave

– Act 4, Scene 1, l. 162-320
With my own tears I wash away my balm
All pomp and majesty I do foreswear

– Act V, Scene I, l. 15-95
– Act V, Scent V, l. 1-112

When he finally dies:

… thy fierce hand
Hath with the King’s blood stain’d
     the King’s own land
Mount, mount my soul! Thy seat
     is up on high
Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward,
     here to die

Edward II is plucky but not introspective other than to observe.

“But what are kings when regiment is gone
But perfect shadow in a sunshine day?”

Mortimer, played by Scott Wentworth, a perpendicular warrior with pithy remarks, surrounded
by action, always action, decisions when he is faced with soon death says:

“Base torture, now I see that in thy wheel
There is a point to which men aspire
They tumble headlong down. That point I touched
And, seeing there was no place to mount up higher

Why should I grieve at my declining fall?
Farewell fair queen. Weep not for Mortimer
That scorns the world, and as a traveller
Goes to discover countries yet unknown.”

Bye bye. He goes, the sound of the sword off stage spells his end, head returned in a blood sack immediately.

The young Edward III played by Harry Thomas, son of Lucy Peacock (according to his biography), is going to enter Grade IX this fall. Hence as a fledgling King he is unsure of speech and diffident. You think “that’s quite clever because he must have been only 12 or 13”. In fact Churchill says when Mortimer and Isabella took power he was 14. When Edward III sentences Mortimer to death he is in fact 18, been married for a year and has a son.

An exciting night of theatre.

The Tempest

Hutt in The Tempest seduces the crowd by booming voice — a sure memory when the audience fears for the 85 year old’s memory — a standing ovation. We cry. He shuffles to the front, waves, exercising his discipline of bemused control. He is more kind than one would expect and in this, his fourth appearance as Prospero since 1962.

The Communists according to Charlie, view this play as an advocacy for imperialism and Caliban a freedom fighter. The empire wasn’t there then.

Ariel is in Marilyn’s view a Caravaggio figure, with cadmium white painted face and operatic wings. He did look a little like Caravaggio’s Bacchus, but a tad thinner.

Virginia found Calaban to be less lewd than in other productions.

Brian Tree as Stephano is, as always, a scene stealer with his happy grating voice. Hutt is benign in stature, composure and smoothing hand on Miranda’s back.

Miranda, his daughter (Adrienne Gould, the girlfriend of Jonathan Goad in real life) who had a small role in As You Like It as Pheobe, appears to be a true beauty. In As You Like It she had glasses which distorted her face.

The Tempest borrows the three female stars of As You Like It for bit parts. Sara Topham who works flat out feverishly for the entire night in As You Like It does a model bird dress walk about revealing her stunning body. Sophie Goulet, a Barbra Striesand Funny Girl performer in As You Like It plays Ceres another bit model and Laura Condlln, Touchstone’s partner does the same.

Ouimette plays Touchstone in As You Like It as a gay blade with electric colours, but is a painted chocolate dirty grunting Calaban. You only recognize him near the end — it’s his eyes that reveal he is in fact Stephen Ouimette.

William Needles plays Adam in As You Like It, always sitting or being assisted here and there. This is his 46th season. He started with Guiness in 1953. He is in the first part so he doesn’t wait for the curtain call — he’s home. I buy his record of reminiscences. He served with the American Army in Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Of 350 men, after a Japanese attack only 39 survived. He just escaped death. In his reminiscences the battle scenes of the War of the Roses portrays modern war with dreadful accuracy and aptness.

As You Like It

I slept through much of As You Like It so I flunk this report.

The consensus on Hutt: a huge presence, this is HIS role and he determines the interpretation, he fills his aura, a very good performance but perhaps if we didn’t feel history was here in the making as this would be his last time, we might not stand. I’m glad we did.

Murray Frum saw him a week ago and asked him if he was really going to stop, “Oh no I’m just going to do movies and television.”

Was the end of The Tempest really meant by Shakespeare to be his last hurrah?

Marjorie Gardner, in Shakespeare After All, 2004 at p. 873 thinks not. She thinks this is a usual “disappearing spectacle” in the masque tradition and were as much an aspect of the entertainment as the songs and dances themselves. As You Like It has one at the end by Rosalind.

Levin points out at p. 153 that Prospero’s speech is a reworking of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding, 1567, so it was not a ‘personal’ statement.

Asimov at p. 651 doubts it, “For one thing a compulsive writer like Shakespeare couldn’t deliberately plan to give up writing while he was capable of holding a pen — on this point I claim to be an authority. For another, he did continue to write in actual fact, engaging in two collaborative efforts with Fletcher: Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Well, we all know about Shakespeare’s Cardenio. Certainly Charlie knew. That’s old news. Charles Hamilton, a ‘handwriting expert’ found a 1611 manuscript known as “The Second Maiden’s Tragedy” usually attributed to Thomas Middleton. This was ‘identified’ as the missing Cardenio with names changed. It played in Oxford’s Burton Taylor Theatre in March of 2004.

Everyone knows that. But did you know that?

Lewis Theobald, in 1727 found “Double Falsehood” being the Cardenio Episode of Don Quixote. According to Wikipedia the free encyclopedia it passed to “William Warburton who worked with him and perished in the hands of his infamous cook”. ?????? No wonder it’s a free encyclopedia.

However, here is the real Shakespeare test. Wikipedia says Shakespeare wrote a poem called The Phoenix and the Turtle.

Surely this isn’t by Shakespeare. Virginia? Charlie? Anna? Mildred? and, oh yes, Rick?

Charlie mused as to how many common phrases have been spawned by Shakespeare. I enclose the entire chapter of Bernard Levin from his 1983 book Enthusiasms (yes, that’s how he spells it), pages 167-168 sets out the famous quotes now used in daily speech. The chapter itself is a pithy testament to why we go to Stratford.