midsummer night’s dream, a chamber play Sept.12th, ’14

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It’s four amazing actors playing with most of the parts of Shakespeare’s midsummer night’s dream. I was glad I was familiar with the play, as otherwise it would have been a lot less interesting. Dion Johnston, Mike Nadajewski, Sarah Afful and Trish Lindstroem were absolutely fabulous.

And that’s all the good things I’m able to say about the thing. It was shown in what appeared to be a dirty basement with 12 rows of seats. An installation by an artist seemed to me as if everything that had been stored in there was now tucked to the ceiling, but hey, that’s art. Also, I had ordered my ticket in November, when they hadn’t even known yet what venue to use. And then I was seated in the second to last row, and basically didn’t see a thing. I admit I raised a stink and the marvellous stage manager sat me and 3 others in row b.

Unfortunately the directing – by Peter Sellars! – consisted mostly of turning down the lights on the dark coloured stage. It was a bit tiresome. So not really a huge win, this one.

The Beaux Stratagem Sept.11th, ’14

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A restauration comedy, it says. This means that in the disguise of pretty dresses and opulent scenery there come razor sharp wit, sarcastic critique of social misgivings and still very current depictions of flawed characters all enrolled in brilliant dialogue. It’s a laugh and so much fun to enjoy even though it tells of a time when women had no rights at all, notably not if they wanted to escape an abusive relationship.

Hay Fever Sept. 10th, ’14

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It’s Noel Coward. It’s supposed to be brilliant. To think he wrote this over one weekend, no rewrites, makes it even more impressive. He based the play on a famous American actress (she was the first Blanche in streetcar named desire) – and after seeing the play she reportedly never spoke to him again. He seemed to have created a very accurate portrayal of her highly disfunctional family.

In this production Lucy Peacock is the famed actress who fights getting older by terrorising the guests that are lured into their mansion in the country. Stage star Judith Bliss, her novelist husband and their two grown children have each invited houseguests for the weekend. But as the Blisses indulge their artistic eccentricities in a hilarious whirlwind of flirtation and histrionics, the guests begin to wonder if they’ve landed in a madhouse – and if they can survive the weekend with their own wits intact. The family is dangerously  witty, sharp tongued and intelligent and they have no scruples to bring their guests in the worst possible situations. A harmless kiss leads not only to immediate engagement but also to mother Bliss dramatically giving her children away. 

When the guests abscond early in the morning, the family is again happily quarreling about streets in Paris and if they lead to a certain place. Their guests certainly feel lucky that they escape unseen!

The audience is lucky, too. The cast is amazing, Cynthia Dale brilliant as the demi monde, and Lucy Peacock is grand as always. It’s fast paced fun, cleverly unmasking the eccentricities of the rich and famous. A must see in this season in Stratford!

Alice through the looking glass Sept.10th, ’14

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Honestly: just to see the great Tom McCamus dressed in a school girl’s summer dress and later on as a hare is worth the ticket.

 

It’s a kids’ play and as such it’s fun, it’s loud, it’s full of energy and has great costumes. I saw it midweek which meant there were less kids and more pensioners as school has already started. To follow Alice on her quest to become a queen even though she has to start out as a pawn is fun and the poems and dialogues are both witty and clever. I didn’t catch any of the jelly beans they threw into the audience. :( it’s hilarious even for grown ups.

I especially loved the very creative way they had designed the set. It’s a colourful display of trees, stars, there’s books and horses with hoarse voices (see what I did there?) and even without knowing the books it’s huge fun to watch that particular game of chess unfold. Trish Lindstroem is a brilliant Alice who depicts a seven year old incredibly believable. I already wrote how much fun Tom McCamus was in his flowery dress (to think the day before he was a psychotic king… LOL) and Cynthia Dale as the Red Queen was amazing as always. To think that she was on stage AGAIN for the evening performance of Hay Fever makes me really envy her stamina. She was great in HF as well, btw.

King John Sept.9th, ’14

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It’s a seldom played drama that centres around one of the less fabulous kings in English history. John Lackland is often depicted as not very brave, accused of giving in too easily to French demands. With him the reign of the Plantagenets ended. But he was a younger son, and instead of landing in some convent or other, her managed to not only rule England for more than a decade but also signed the Magna Charta (or was forced to signing it – historians differ there), which is the base of modern law.

In the play king john is confronted with his nephew, a boy whose mother – with a little help from the French – wants to push him onto the throne. And it is really the women who are the driving force of the events that follow – at least John makes it look that way. Because his mother opposes the very idea.

And there’s also Philipp the bastard, who – instead of getting the land from his albeit legitimate younger brother – accepts a title as Plantagenet and enthusiastically follows John to war. His sarcastic wit and fighting skills secure him his king’s friendship as they lay siege to a town in France. Because John does go to war against France and Austria (and they even found a guy who eerily looks like one of our less attractive rulers lol) 

And while king John is excommunicated and claims to have won the war, in the end it is a marriage that seals a contract between France and England. Only that king John can’t enjoy the peace that hopefully follows: a monk has poisoned him, he dies.

 

Now the cast. Tom McManus as king John. He adopts an almost singing, lisping voice that makes his orders to kill his young nephew all the more scary. He says outrageous things with a smile a and a wink. He is, as always, very good.

A pleasant surprise is Graham Abbey as Philipp, whose acerbic one liners are to the point and provide the lighter counterpoint to the dramatic story. He has great comedic timing and he gets better every year. Yes, he plays to his female audience, but hey, he has something to play with! If you got it, flaunt it. 

Oh, I booked a second performance for me. I figured I deserve it. ;) and this time it’s going to be stage door!!

Antony and Cleopatra. Sept. 9th, ’14

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Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIntosh – two first rate actors … what can possibly go wrong. Apparently a lot, otherwise someone wouldn’t have laughed out loud during Antony’s death scene. It was probably the worst ouch moment in this production.

It started out so well. Antony and Cleopatra together in Egypt, living the good life, casually dressed and enjoying each other almost a bit like a wedded couple where the spark of first love hasn’t vanished yet. Antony mostly ignores the letters from Rome that remind him of his duties, Cleopatra trying to entice him anew each day, knowingg that her power and standing comes from his army and should he go for good, neither she nor her followers would be safe for long.

But then there’s one letter he can’t ignore. Antony’s wife died and he has to come back to Rome. And as soon he’s there he sheds the lover and becomes the politician again – he marries the Caesar’s sister. That he then leaves for Egypt doesn’t go over so well.

The Egyptian army is no match for Roman soldiers and even Antony’s oldest friend defects, only to die. One last time Cleopatra wants to test Antony: she has servants tell him she is dead as she wants to know how he’ll react. He does react though not the way she had expected. Left by his friends, his army scattered, the battle lost he now thinks there is nothing more to live for. So in a beautiful moving scene he falls into his sword and slowly bleeds to death “not dead…” he sighs. (Cue in laughter)

I was so ashamed I actually skipped stage door.

Oh, Cleopatra: in order to not fall into the hands of the Roman victors who would have displayed her in a triumph, she lets herself get bitten by a poisonous snake.

I loved Seana’ s portrayal of a mature intelligent queen who is politically aware and sexually attractive to get what she wants. She was incredibly impressive. And I don’t know if it was me or if he had a bad day, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by geraint wyn davies. Maybe I saw him in too many Shakespeare plays where he used his Welsh accent. But in his scenes with Cleopatra – even though there was much kissing and grasping – I got more the impression of a constantly tipsy merchant than of a high ranking soldier enthralled by the most beautiful woman of all Egypt.

Now,  I’ll see it again. Maybe we’re both in a better disposition then. At least that’s what I hope.

Wordplay – the madness of king George III Sept 7th, ’14

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It was a read through – with actors who love to goof around reading multiple parts, having fun with accents and just generally fooling around on stage. Led by Geraint Wyn Davies as king and his real life wife Claire Lautier (quote geraint: who I’ve just met but I hear she’s decent) this farcical comedy deals with George’s first bout of his madness that will in the end lead to him being locked away and his son taking control as prince regent. This restauration comedy is also  very clever depiction of life at court and the intrigues spun by everybody.

But what made the play good fun were undoubtedly the actors who played off each other and had a go whenever possible. So yes, lots of laughter masked the rather tragic fate of George III who is “retrained” to act normal in public while his son and parliament are trying to have him committed for good. 

I am already looking forward to seeing a second wordplay next Sunday.