Monday, 5 June 2017

Stratford Festival's Treasure Island ideal fun-filled action for the family

Long John Silver (Juan Chioran) and his motley crew of plundering pirates, with Jim Hawkins (Thomas Mitchell Barnet) set sail for the high seas in search of buried treasure in Treasure Island at the Avon Theatre. (Cylla von Tiedermann/Stratford

To read my review of Treasure Island in the Stratford Beacon Herald click here

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Wonderfully defiant heroine elevates Stratford Festival's Romeo and Juliet

Antoine Yared as Romeo and Sara Farb as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Festival Theatre,  (Cylla von Tiedermann Photo)

To read my review of Romeo and Juliet in the Stratford Beacon Herald click here

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Friday, 1 July 2016

Rebellion and Redemption offer uniquely entertaining theatre

A Breath of Kings Rebellion
Richard 11 and Henry 1V, Part 1
A Breath of Kings Redemption
Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V
Stratford Festival 2016
Tom Patterson Theatre
Written by William Shakespeare
Conceived and adapted by Graham Abbey
Directed by Mitchell Cushman and Weyni Mengesha
Approximate running time: Three hours for each production (with two intervals of 20 minutes each)
June 22-September 24
Toll-free: 1.800.567.1600

Reviewed by Geoff Dale

STRATFORD – With Macbeth a critical and popular success Graham Abbey has treated audiences to another exhilarating Shakespearean experience with his powerful, thought-provoking A Breath of Kings Rebellion and Breath of Kings Redemption.

With Rebellion he incorporates the major elements of Richard 11 and Henry IV, Part One. Meanwhile, Redemption ambitiously presents the key aspects of Henry IVPart Two and Henry V. The resulting two three-hour productions utilize the considerable skills of 20+ actors tackling 70+ roles – a truly daunting task.

Graham Abbey is pictured as King Henry 1V in A Breath of Kings Rebellion. (David Hou Photography)

At the risk of sounding a tad coy, A Breath of Kings, both parts, are breathtaking for the most part. Admittedly the required editing and cutting of portions of the original text does translate into some loss of scenes and even character developments. Yet despite this, what is showcased is an exquisite, sometimes sweeping narrative that highlights the finest stage talents to be found anywhere. Continuity never suffers.

In addition to Abbey’s vision is the bonus of the skillful team of co-directors Mitchell Cushman and Weyni Mengesha, whose staging abilities are highlighted magnificently in the Tom Patterson Theatre’s audience- friendly in-the-round scenario.

As in past efforts Tom Rooney demonstrates yet again why he is acknowledged as both a dramatic and comic actor with unmatched skills. His Richard 11, not the standard view, is a deep inner exploration of a tormented regal authority, beset with the woes of uniting and/or dividing his moments of enlightened rule with self-obsessed indulgence.

Returning in Redemption he lightens the proceedings with his wondrous portrayal of foolish buddy of Falstaff’s Justice Shallow while providing yet another more serious role – dressed in the tattered garb of the deceased Richard – the narratively essential Chorus.

Geraint Wyn Davies offers up a first-rate acting class, stealing scene after scene with his over-the-top comic buffoon Sir John Falstaff and latterly with his awe-inspiring presentation of the stalwart Welsh officer Captain Fluellen.

Araya Mengesha as King Henry V with members of the company in A Breath of Kings Redemption.
 (David Hou Photography)

Araya Mengesha is solid as the youthful undisciplined prince Hal who grows steadily into the more regal Henry V who exceeds expectations as the newly crowned serious-minded king.

While the productions call on the full company to tackle a seemingly exhaustive variety of roles, special note should be made of the contributions of six gifted female actors who take on both male and female roles, a novel but highly successful gender neutral approach to the two plays.

Irene Poole is a standout on all counts but particularly shines as the King’s loyal supporter Sir Walter Blunt. Carly Street, tackling multiple characters with ease, is a rousing delight as the militant ready-for-action at any costs Scottish Earl of Douglas and Kate Henning is a delightful Mistress Quickly, the welcoming hostess of the Boor’s Head.

Remarkably Abbey hasn’t worn himself too thin with his writing, directorial and conceptual duties, strutting about as a finely etched Henry Bolingbroke, King Henry 1V – a remarkable achievement for the talented actor, proving that one can indeed wear many diverse theatrical hats with great aplomb.

Other highlights including stirring battles staged and choreographed by John Stead; the cold steel duel between Hal and Hotspur; the stunning costuming by Yannik Larivee; the mesmerizing oft-times bleak and dark lighting courtesy of Kimberly Purtell and Anita Dehbonehie’s eye-catching set design.

The good news is neither purists nor theatre novices should feel obligated to furiously re-read the aforementioned Shakespearean’s works to appreciate Abbey’s efforts. Nor is there really any overriding necessity to seek out those missing scenes, characters and/or plots and subplots – few as they may be.

The verdict – six hours of enticing, often enthralling and dare we utter it yet again breathtaking theatre highlighting the versatility of innovative actor/director Abbey. Complemented by Stratford’s fine acting and technical companies the two productions richly deserve **** out of four stars. 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Some bright stars with A Little Night Music

Cutline: Sara Farb shines as Petra in A Little Night Music (David Hou Photography)

A Little Night Music

Stratford Festival 2016

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night

Directed by Gary Griffin

Music direction by Franklin Brasz

Approximate running time: two hours and 45 minutes (with one 20-minute interval)

June 21-October 23

Toll-free: 1.800.567.1600

Reviewed by Geoff Dale

For the moment try to divorce yourself from the grim reality that Judy Collins recorded Stephen

Sondheim’s sombre Send in the Clowns back in 1975, reducing it for many to the status of tired

old chestnut over the 41 years.

Now focus on the present day revitalization of that musically complex song in the Stratford

Festival’s energetic 2016 presentation of A Little Night Music, a rather lengthy production

featuring, as would be expected, some theatrical nuggets from this company.

For those not acquainted with the origins of the work, it was inspired by Swedish filmmaker

Ingmar Bergman’s lighthearted romance from 1955 Smiles of a Summer Night, a movie that

literally put the writer/director on the cinematic world map, won for best poetic humour and

snagged a nomination for best film at the Palme d’Or at Cannes the next year.

Please, no need to adjust your glasses, the mention of Bergman and lighthearted romance in the

same sentence was indeed no mistake, just not the norm for the acclaimed director/writer. While

he trotted out some dark classics like The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, he did have a gift

– though not often used – for humour.

Sondheim then added large sprinkling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and other works and

voila A Little Night Music – his tasty skewering of the institution of marriage – was born.

Apologies for the cliché but the rest is history.

Set in 1900 Sweden, the lengthy act one, crying out at times for some editing, demonstrated that

not everyone in the Stratford Festival cast possesses the acknowledged vocal skills of the

production’s nominal star Cynthia Dale, who as Countess Charlotte Malcolm showcases her

considerable talent both as a top flight singer and an adept stage comic actor able to swiftly toss

about one-liners with great ease.

That minor shortfall is to be expected. So musical director Franklin Brasz counters by making

great usage of the elegantly dressed five-member Greek chorus (Sean Arbuckle, Barbara Fulton,

Ayrin Mackie, Stephen Patterson and Jennifer Rider-Shaw) that periodically interjects itself into

the proceedings to guide the audience through the essentials of the storyline.

Meanwhile, the graceful opening waltz highlights the swift exchange of romantic partners in a

sort of choreographic musical chairs, enhanced by the glorious offerings of 19 carefully selected

musicians – largely piano, woodwinds and strings – conducted by Brasz.

Some have suggested over the years that the composer’s preference for the ¾ time signature (the

waltz) is his clever way of stressing that the number three is incompatible – or at least should be

– in the marriage arrangement. Hence the actors are generally divided into awkward trio

arrangements, complemented by the score.

The prime example of the shaky state of marriage here is provided by middle-aged lawyer

Fredrik Egerman’s strange marriage – more of a mid-life crisis – to his virginal 18-year- old

trophy wife Anne (Alexis Gordon). An oddly quirky marital union without any hint of carnal

activity for 11 months, the joke becomes tired before too long, thankfully breaking away into

various threesomes.

Much more amusing and deftly handled by the principles are the ill-fated romances surrounding

fading but still glamorous/sexually active star Desiree Armfeldt (the superb vocalist/actress

Yanna McIntosh), her lovesick suitor and former lover Fredrik along with her current beau

Count Carl-Magnus Magnum, shamelessly and openly cheating on his wife the Countess in a

hysterically funny buffoonish manner by Juan Chioran.

As the cloddish self-consumed military man Chioran, a standout in A Chorus Line, is an

unexpected treasure, parading about the stage in a marvelously awkward fashion that conjures up

the vision of a stylistic physical comedic marriage of John Cleese (ala Basil Fawlty) and Richard

McMillan, the scene-stealing actor well-remembered by Stratford audiences for his roles in

numerous Gilbert and Sullivan productions of the ‘80s.

Meanwhile McIntosh’s heartfelt treatment of Send in the Clowns is truly a well-deserved show

stopper that firmly places the number back in proper context as a soul-searching personal

reflection on past romantic glories, losses and mistakes.

While there are considerable moments in the show’s almost three-hour duration to choose

favorite moments, actors, scenes and even those that don’t quite make the mark, one standout

throughout is unquestionably the tireless Sara Farb (also appearing as Lucy in The Lion, the

Witch and the Wardrobe) as the feisty/worldly Petra, maid and close friend of Anne.

Her vocal command and accompanying physical dexterity when performing the second-act The

Miller’s Son – laden with its numerous references to life, luck and love - is well worth the price

of admission and much more. Under the capable guidance of director Gary Griffin, Farb provides

the complete package of comedy and drama with shades of pathos – giving the production that

little extra bit of adrenaline necessary for a Sondheim classic.

An audience pleaser that nabs *** out of four stars.