The Last Wife Sept. 20th, ’15

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This play was interesting in more than one way. It reunited parts of the cast of Anne Frank – namely Anne and her father, Sara Farb and Joseph Ziegler – in totally contrary roles which is credit to their talent. And it is an interesting contemporary retelling of Henry VIII and his last wife, the one that survived him – Katherine Parr. The play is by Kate Henning and premiered at the Festival’s Studio Theatre. The rather intimate venue gives itself to a powerful story of duelling wits, of politics and feminism without rewriting or even changing known history.

Katherine Parr (Maeve Beaty) is a woman with a dying husband and a handsome adoring friend Thom (Gareth Potter) she keeps at bay – not just because she is still married, but also because she had been raped (over a dispute of land). And yet – as soon as her husband died (and it’s the third husband she loses to the grim reaper) another man advances her. And he is a man who does not take no for an answer. Henry VIII wants her. He sees in her a glimps of Jane Seymour – the one that died in childbed and before she could bore him to her death – but he also gets an intelligent woman who does not want this relationship, but who has no choice but to accept. In the end she gives in, not for the presents he showers her with, but because he promises to never take her without her permission. Thom Seymour is sent to Holland though.

Parr is the first woman who seems not to be afraid of him, who deals with his rotting leg and who even manages to get both Mary (Sara Farb) and Elizabeth back to court to be educated together with the one child that matters: Prince Edward. In a war of two intelligent minds, one hindered by the fact that it belonged to a woman, Parr is able to get the King to sign a paper that secures succession through the female line, should Edward die. She even dodges her own execution by humiliating herself and bending to the king’s will as she gets too influential for the courtiers. The marriage itself it seems is a series of negotiations, and maybe that’s what keeps Henry interested while his health declines.

After his death Katherine seems to find happiness with Thom – but for a last time has to be the mother of two stubborn princesses when Elizabeth is in the middle of a smear campaign alleging that she and Thom were lovers. Parr fights these rumours, but it takes all her fight out of her – she gives birth to a girl and dies weeks later from sepsis.

Two future queens she helped form are mourning her as the one mother they had known, as the woman who had proven that women can in fact be strong and intelligent and head of states. Thom is no longer in the picture – killed for treason – and Edward is a sickly child. Both girls will have their moments in the light, one creating the golden age of Great Britain.

What fascinated me most was the way these historic figures came to life as thoroughly contemporary people, as humans rather than Kings and Queens. Josef Ziegler gives a fantastic grumpy, frustrated by his own weaknesses, yet regal Henry whose self deprecating irony is the salt of the play. Maeve Beaty is the down to earth, intelligent woman with the brains of a man who conquers Henry – but her love for Thom (a deeply female fate not only at the time) is in the end her downfall.

Set design was minimalist as often, with a large table doubling as a bed and little more. But from the ceiling hung a huge model of the Palace of Whitehall, where Henry lived and died, but upside down. As upside down as the relationship between Henry and Parr had been…

The Alchemist Sept.19th, ’15

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Honestly I don’t know how he does it. There’s Jonathan Goad finishing Hamlet, and a couple of hours later, he’s one of the main actors of the alchemist, a satirical farce about the greed of people that is not only highly demanding from a sheer physical standpoint but also from the frightening amount of text.

Goad is the charming Face who while his master is out invites Subtle and Dol Common into the empty mansion to part people from their money. (And don’t you just love it how aptly Ben Jonson names his characters?) Face poses as Captain and if necessary also as hunchbacked servant to Subtle’s Alchemist and together with the distractingly sexy Dol they con unsuspecting and superstitious commoners out of their money. There’s the tobacconist who wants to know where his shop’s door should be. And the gambling lawyer who needs a lucky charm in order to win. There’s the greedy religious congregation, the loud lout, who wants to learn how to quarrel, and his gorgeous widowed sister, who wants another husband,  and finally there’s Epicure Mammon, (Scott Wentworth, hilarious in  a golden fat suit, wobbling about on stage) who wants his whole life guilded.

Face, Subtle and Dol juggle their victims quite expertly until Surly, Mammon’s friend turns up. He’s too clever for their shenanigans and wants to give them over to the authorities. In order to do this though, he poses as a Spanish Don’t with wig and clothes and hat and seems to be the perfect new husband for the widow. (After he’s paid for the pleasure of course). So Mammon is waiting on his stone of wisdom that will turn everything into gold, meanwhile courting Dol, the Alchemist is trying out fortune telling and pressing more money out of the strange church people and slowly but surely the whole thing flies out of hand.

And then the master of the house turns up and within the hour Face is a servant again, Subtle and Dol are gone and Surly is the only one followed by the police as he lied to the widow and then confided in her. The master marries the widow, the duped folk have no idea what just happened and peace is restored in the village.

Again it was the little things. Stephen Ouimette prancing around with a chamber pot. Dol (Brigit Wilson) donning a dress that could be turned into a very revealing Mistress dress with a whip. Scott Wentworth casting stinky eyes at the audience for laughing out loud, all the while bopping around on stage like a mad golden billiard ball. Rylan Wilkie as the overzealous righteous religious nutter, screaming ‘this is indecent’ while throwing a temper tantrum worth of a 3year old. And finally Jonathan Goad, dashing in his red Captain’s jacked. Weird as Frankenstein’s helper in a hunchback jacket and with a limp. And harmlessly smiling and soft voiced, when his master is back, with rimmed glasses and a prayer book.

They also corpsed once. I almost peed myself. – while Surly is introduced and Face and Subtle talk, the ‘Don’ takes off his Spanish hat with a flourish…. and has his hair in his hand. He keeps talking Spanish, but frantically tries to put the damn wig back on. Of course Goad sees that and starts grinning which tips off Ouimette and finally all three of them just give up and laugh, snort and giggle with the audience, applause, hilarity, until they’re allowed to continue.

As you can see – I loved it. Wentworth and Ouimette are always a delight, Goad is just exceptional this season and the play itself just hilarious. Still grinning, me.

Hamlet Sept.19th, ’15

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Yes. Amazing. Jonathan Goad. Let me just say that Cumberbatch will have a hard time to top this performance.

Goad just has it all and it seems to be his part from the start. The man is young enough to pull the scholar off, mature enough to be a leader amongst friends and to see the political consequences of his actions, talented enough to pull off madness without overacting and finally fit enough to add a lot of physical comedy to his performance without even breaking into a sweat. Accompanied by a great cast (Geraint Wyn Davies as both the ghost and the new king, Tom Rooney as Ophelia’s father, Mike Shara as his son) this was a win from the start. Set in a non specified present where guns unapologetically replace rapiers until the last sword fight and in modern dress, it is Shakespeare’s beautiful language that brings it all together when Elizabethan English starts to sound like current English thanks to the talented actors on stage.

Yes I was/am that impressed.

Things that stood out for me: Goad mimicking a crab complete with crabwalking backwards and using his hands for its shears, then looking at his right hand still opening and closing as if it wasn’t attached to his mind or body. The one time Hamlet lets his affection for Ophelia shine through in their scene with her father watching and that almost kiss that made the air sizzle. The sheer skill with which Shara and Goad pull off their final fight scene. Damn their fight director John Stead is good! The exchange of the blades was so fast and fluid it was amazing. And finally the death scene of Hamlet – always difficult because there’s still so much text left for the actor which can lead to me thinking ‘oh die already, everyone else is gone’. Not this time. When Hamlet finally says ‘the rest is silence’ it is with almost child-like surprise. Then his body just lets go. No dramatic falling back, just … over. When six combat clad soldiers carry him out (how did Goad manage his body tension for that scene….) his head falls back – a perfect last glimpse at an unlikely hero and his finished quest.

Damn, Goad owned it.😉

The Taming of the Shrew Sept.18th, ’15

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They clearly outdid themselves with this one. Brilliant just doesn’t cover it.

Even before the play, while ppl are still coming in, actors file out and talk to the audience. Where are you from. (Once again I won 😁) and Tom Rooney assured me they would do part of the play in high high high German, so I might not even be able to understand it. 😂

And that little encounter set the pace for an incredible, farcical, physical show that had us all in stitches.

It all starts with a row – a member of the audience, rather disheveled looking, with a drunkard’s nose and dirty hair, claims to be “a blogger” and demands special treatment for Sound of music, the other huge show at the festival theatre. It was only then that I recognised Ben Carlson under the hilarious mask!

The story is of course well known – I like to call the play “Stockholm Syndrome” – but set in Shakespeare’s time it just oozes sarcasm, irony and a good deal of not so child proof cock-jokes. It is also – in this direction by Chris Abraham- a negotiation between two headstrong characters who try to make their lives work with without losing themselves in the process. Carlson and his real life wife Deborah Hay are perfect sparring partners in this never ending fight that slowly turns into an erotically charged banter. In their last scene where Kate (seemingly tamed) offers to put her hand under her husband’s foot, she stands above Petrucchio, until he charges to her, grips the offered hand and – while embracing her tightly – guides her hand to his manhood, knowing quite well who is pulling whom  and how in their lives.

Add to that the way they turn aa brawl in the audience into Shakespearian verse as soon as The Blogger enters the stage, and you have theatre magic at its best. Special cudos to Tom Rooney, Mike Shara, Cyrus Lane and of course Carlson and Hay. This is why I love to come here…

Possible Worlds Sept.18th, ’15

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It’s a weird little play in the small studio theatre they use when there’s either experimental plays or readings. Set in and around a shallow pool of water, just an inch or so high, George (Cyrus Lane) wakes up in the water, naked, wet, and puts on his clothes. Like so many times before he searches for Joyce. He keeps finding her, in a cafe, in a disco, sometimes she’s interested in him, sometimes not. There is also the world, where they live together and are happy. Where they sit on the beach…

Meanwhile police is investigating a series of murders with a twist: the victims’ brains are missing. And the inspector discovers that a scientist experiments on rat brains. Is it a surprise that they finally find the missing human brains in the scientist’s cupboard, still “alive” , still in a dreamlike state?

The play didn’t grip me much. The lighting was basically missing, maybe to reinforce the dreamworld it was supposed to depict. I still don’t understand why everyone was in this shallow pool. That said, the premise is quite interesting: What happens to all the other lives we might have led? And what if one could sample them all? This blend of romantic thriller, science fiction and whodunit is above all a love story that spans several universes – or does it? That’s the official tag line btw and why I booked my ticket.

WordPlay: Napoli Milionaria Sept.17th,’15

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Geraint wyn davies’ wordplays are always a great. He gathers friends and family and they all read a play nobody’s ever heard of, having fun and mocking each other along the way. Laughter is guaranteed.

This time was no exception.  The obscure play was written in 1945 by Eduardo de Filippo with the author and his sister in the main parts. Life is hard in Naples during World War II but Donna Amalia does her best to keep the family afloat by dealing on the black market. Amalia prospers while Gennaro, her law-abiding husband, goes missing and is presumed dead. He returns unexpectedly to find his wife unfaithful, his son a car thief, his daughter pregnant and his other daughter critically ill. Shocked by the effects of corruption on his family, Gennaro prepares to resume his role as head of the household. 

Written in the tradition of Don Camillo and Peppone the characters are, even though less than legal, going about their black market businesses with charm and verve, making the best of a situation that had been forced onto them. In the end the father, home from a German prison camp, is as much a fossil as he is a saviour. His son doesn’t go on that last trip to steal a car and thus doesn’t get arrested, his daughter stays home and doesn’t find another GI to p”entertain, his third child gets the medication to fight a fever. And his wife keeps on doing business against his will…

This time the cast was just as much a surprise as the play itself. Jonathan Goad, this year’s Hamlet, stopped by to read mother Amalia’s snake oil charming love interest, Geraint was Gennaro and hilariously hamming it up, Wayne Best, Blocher in the Physicists, did another police officer and was brilliant. There were hysterical moments when one or the other forgot that they were on or when one of the thieves was miming, causing the others to fall into fits of giggles.

My only complaint is that thanks to the shitty new calendar I almost missed out on this late addition to the line up. Glad I didn’t. Brilliant evening.

Btw: did I already mention that Jonathan Goad is really cute when he’s walking with his little daughter? 😉

The Physicists Sept.17th,’15

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Know the sarcastic proverb “the inmates are running the asylum”? Well, that’s what it pans down in Duerrenmatt’s Physicists. The play is brilliant, sharp, political, irreverent and current and with the right kind of actors it’s a hoot.

It is a hoot in Stratford. Which is no surprise given that Mike Nadajewski, dry witted Graham Abbey, Seana McKenna and Geraint Wyn Davies are sparring with each other.

The play opens with a gruesome murder:a nurse of  the renowned private sanatorium of Dr Mathilde von Zahnd has been killed by one of the inmates, erm patients. The killer, who firmly believes he is Einstein, plays the violin to calm down. He cannot be made responsible for his deed, he is, after all, ill! Just like a couple of months ago when another … patient killed another pretty nurse. Then ” Isaac Newton” could not be made responsible, much to the chagrin of police detective Blocher who understandably itches to bring both delinquents to justice. Alas, as fraeulein dr von Zahnd explains, not gonna happen.

The third patient, Möbius, has company. Years ago, after a nervous breakdown he started to see Solomon. Now his divorced wife comes to say good bye to him. She will accompany her new husband, a preacher, to the pacific. Möbius seems almost relieved about that, as if a heavy load has been taken off his shoulders.

Nurse Monika Stettler is relieved as well. She finally dares to talk to Möbius about her feelings for him. Not only is she in love with him, she also has taken his life in her hands, organised a position at a prestigious university for him and given his writings to a fellow Physicist who is impressed by his findings. Now she presents Möbius with a new life outside the confines of the sanatorium, with the life of an honoured physicist he deserves. Is it a surprise that Möbius kills her?

The third death of a nurse does have consequences though. Only male nurses will be allowed in the future, impressive massive men who are boxers and the likes.

And this leads to a surprising twist. Newton (who only pretended to be Newton because in fact he was Einstein but someone else was already thinking he was Einstein) is quite clear of mind. He is Beutler (Graham Abbey), a fellow Physicist in the pocket of an unnamed authority, paid to befriend Möbius and to garner his findings. And Einstein, it turns out, is Ernesti (Mike Nadajewski), another physicist working for a different unnamed authority. Driven to action by the newly installed safety measures, the two, even though wary of each other, approach Möbius. But he (Geraint Wyn Davies) is it seems the only one with a conscience. His findings during his time in the sanatorium might mean the end of humanity so he prefers to stay and not share his work with anyone.

But it is far too late already. Fraeulein dr von Zahnd has been copying Möbius’ work from day one and built an empire of power and wealth. The end of time has already begnnjun. And so Newton, Einstein and Möbius/Solomon retreat to their rooms, prisoners forever, not able to stop the course of history they unwittingly and unwillingly set in motion…

I of course adored Graham Abbey. His dry wit is hilarious (the translation by Michael Healey is brilliant btw) and his switches from seemingly normal to hysterically bonkers are quite something. Geraint was obviously reigned in and a bit subdued which made his part all the more plausible and Seana McKenna rocks it as the power greedy oligarch.

And that’s the amazing thing: even written in the early 60s ( it premiered in 1962) this play is hauntingly current with its depiction of ruthlesness in the pursuit of money and power, the obvious neglect of human rights and the greed that drives people to extremes. That said, I laughed throughout the play’s satirical dialogues and I’m very glad I get to see it again, because once just isn’t enough!