CD: Do Not Go Gentle July 2010

From Da Man himself: Geraint Wyn Davies told me at the stage door that his new CD Do Not Go Gentle, poetry of Dylan Thomas, is now out and about. You can buy it in the Theatre store next to the Stratford Festival Theatre in Ontario and hopefully  soon at amazon.com. Unfortunately the CD is not very well advertised – it should be prominently featured at the Avon Studio Theater but sadly it wasn’t while I was there.

It has been recorded after the Broadway-run of Do Not Go Gentle and it’s just FANTASTIC!! You can now order it here at the Theatre Store in Stratford (store@stratfordshakespearefestival.com or by calling 1-800-561-1233 ext 2320 – this info was thankfully passed on to me through Aaron Kropf, who is Social and Online Media Coordinator at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival – thank you very much for commenting!!) or at iTunes under Geraint’s name – and you should buy it – it’s really great!! I already got two!

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The Tempest July 2010

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Together with Winter’s Tale The Tempest is the last play Shakespeare ever wrote – and just like Winter’s Tale it is a story about forgiveness, mellowness, if you want, a calmer view on life in late age. But while in Winter’s Tale  the gods influence the story by protecting both Hermione and her daughter Perdita from almost certain death, in Tempest it is the magic of Prospero that brings the story as well as the fates of everyone involved to fruition with the help of puckish spirit Ariel.

Stratford’s production of the Tempest has been blessed with brilliant actors that lend a new and original view on the characters they play. For instance Julyana Soelistyo: she looks and acts the child-like part of Ariel, but adds the depth of lifetimes of experiences to her portrayal of the charming spirit Ariel. Director Des McAnuff lets her fly and giggle and even sprout wings for one scene and leaves us marveling about the depth of connection the flutterlight impish spirit and mighty Prospero actually have. For Prospero looks out for her almost like a father for his daughter. And speaking of daughters: Trish Lindstrom breathes life into Miranda, who, after twelve years of living alone on an island, the only companion her own father and Caliban, Dion Johnstone, a slave half man half snake with a temper to match and a deep rooted hatred for Prospero in his heart, finally blooms into maturity thanks to the love she feels for her prince. That said, Ms Lindstrom is the weakest of the performers (or I caught her on a really bad day a couple of times) – and still she is doing a marvelous job; it’s just incredibly hard to hold one’s own next to such terrific counterparts…

But it is of course Christopher Plummer (a walking standing ovation these days, as one commentator stated in his review) who IS the play, who captures Prospero’s fate and life with just a turn of his head, a wink of his eye. It’s in his body language as much as it’s in Shakespeare’s words and it is brilliant to see on an almost empty stage that lets the magic happen. The way Plummer interacts with the cast, the way he interprets the words, discovers and unveils the character for us left me stunned and amazed in all three shows I saw.

Plummer’s voice is rich with passion, soft with love and fierce with rage and power and it sweeps you right into the world he and Shakespeare create for the audience. Words, in the end, fail me.

But there’s also Stephano and Trinculo, the drunken servant and the yammering jester, who steal the scenes whenever they are on stage. Both Geraint Wyn Davies and Bruce Dow own the parts and have the audience roaring with laughter and finally applauding when they leave the stage. Wyn Davies’ thick scottish accent is just an added bonus to his brilliant antics when he discovers the “four legged beast” (the beast with two backs?) covered in an old rag. His comedic timing is just amazing, he feeds off Bruce Dow’s helplessly gay and frustrated jester and vice versa. Both men excel in their craft and turn their scenes into hilarious displays of vanity and stupidity and even a glimpse of grandeur when Stephano (Wyn Davies) finally seems to come to terms with the fact that he might just be king-material after all. There is a short moment where a noble heart shines through a very drunk exterior and it makes you want to believe in him for just a little while…

The play ends with Prospero’s monologue in which he states his project was to please and please he did indeed. Every show I saw ended in triumphant standing ovations, a small thank you for a brilliant cast and direction.

Needless to say I adore that play! It’s definitely one of the major highlights of this season in Stratford and creates the most beautiful and amazing magic on stage thanks to a truly exceptional cast.

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I also was able to observe the second day of filming the Tempest and it was an eye opener in many ways. Of course the filming itself was not that interesting, just a few close ups in scenes that hadn’t been captured on tape during the ongoing recording of the play during the afternoon performances. But the way all the actors and of course Christopher Plummer handled the camera was really enlightening. One minute Plummer was just an old man, tired, cold and even a bit grumpy. Then someone ordered Okay! and he was ON in the blink of an eye, in the turn of a head. Really amazing to witness.

Plus all of the cast was incredibly friendly with fans – Bruce Dow for instance was at the filming, and hadn’t slept much from last night’s performing and the morning appointment of his meet the theatre, and yet, when a 16 year old aspiring actor came to talk with him, he took the time, joked with him and invited him onto his facebook page for help. I am very much looking forward to seeing him next season.

The Winter’s Tale July 2010

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This is the one that starts out like a greek tragedy – a sad tale, like the one that young Mamillius tells his mother on a cold and probably dreary winter’s evening in Sicilia, where his father rules. A sad tale – when sad still also had the double meaning of serious. And a simple one, or so it seems: Because Leontes, King of Sicilia, is jealous of his chaste wife, pregnant with his child, because she is a friendly host to Bohemian’s King Polixenes, who just spent nine months as a guest at the palace (and has clearly outlived his welcome).

The setup of both stage and costumes brings you right into the middle of the story: the clothes Leontes and his courtiers wear are black and grey, the cloaks used seem to transform the actors into pieces of a chess game – a game that will see the king in check mate rather sooner than later. Because as inevitable as in a greek tragedy the king cannot or will not shake his unfounded jealousy and therefore not only drives his brotherly friend Polixenes from his shores but also officially accuses his wife of adultery. And not even the great oracle of Apollo which clears the queen of all accusations can set the king right. In a fit of rage he prepares to put Queen Hermione on trial for her life.

It doesn’t come to that though. His first born son, heir to the throne Mamillius, does not survive the anxiety of knowing that his mother is in prison – where she already prematurely gave birth to a daughter. And when the queen hears of this, she collapses and dies too.

The newborn girl named Perdita (the lost one) is abandoned on the shores of Bohemia, the ship that carried her, falls prey to the wrath of the gods – nobody survives.

16 years pass.

And again brilliant Marti Maraden picks costumes and stage props to show how happy everybody could be if only there was trust and love. Flowers bloom, the clothes are colorful and almost remind us of a pastoral idyllic we can only dream of. It comes as no surprise that in such a loving environment Perdita and the young prince fall for each other – only that she is a simple shepherd’s daughter.

For all those strings to untangle it takes the brilliance of Shakespeare and of course the brilliance of the actors involved to make the story clear and understandable.

Fantastic as always Ben Carlson, whose precise speech and impassioned way of delivery are always a joy to watch. He is joined by Yanna McIntosh as his faithful queen, who is just wonderful as ever. Then Seana McKenna, who plays Paulina, the woman who forces the king to remember day after day of what he did to his wife and children. She is fierce and marvellous in her righteous anger and her fear, too. I am always intimidated whenever I see her out of costume in the streets of lovely Stratford. One of these days I will find the guts to just tell her how much I admire her work.

And last, but not least, there is Tom Rooney as the charming, but very crooked little thief Autolycus. The way he plays the audience and begs for coins and stays in character is just brilliantly amazing. He fills the small part (the comic relief in this “sad tale”) with so much life and fire, it’s just fantastic.

And what’s even more amazing: Carlson and Rooney were absolutely adorable at the stage door, friendly, always good for a couple of words and a modest thank you.

(I am still drooling 😉 – just, go and see for yourself!)

Jacques Brel July 2010

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris

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It’s not a play with a plot. It’s all about the gripping, often raw ballads of the most incredible songwriter and singer ever gracing this planet. A fan of Jacques Brel, me? oh, but of course.

The only drawback of this absolutely brilliant revue is that all of the songs except two have been translated into English (and luckily so, as Brel’s songs always were about the words and not just the melody …) but in translation some of the weightless flow of the rhythm of the songs is lost – which you realize as soon as you hear the two songs still in French. Somehow though this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the songs, but even enhances it.

The revue has a subtitle “songs of self expression” and that is aptly chosen. Because if you want to see some story arc, there you got it – the development and maturation  of a soul in the span of a lifetime.

Now on to the truly exceptional cast: Jewelle Blackman and Nathalie Nadon and Brent Carver and Mike Nadajewski are four voices matched to perfection, each adding their certain special quality to the songs and the ways of interpretation. “My Childhood” brought tears to my eyes – partly due to the interpretation of Brent Carver who stands out even in this really brilliant cast. I adored “Middle Class” and (sadly) recognized myself in it and therefore had a good laugh at my own expenses thanks to Carver and Mike Nadajewski, whose comic timing and expressive face and body language are just brilliant.

And then there is “Amsterdam”. With Brent Carver interpreting it, it’s a hypnotic chant driving you in with no hope of escape – just as the sailors don’t have an escape out of their hard, often miserable lives. Everyone is driven into the same escalating beat of life that is “Amsterdam”. It’s brilliant. Someone told me they had seen the show four times just because of this song and I have to say I definitely understand that.

In the second half Brussels stands out. And The Bulls, of course, once again with Nadajewski lending an innovative touch to the song that leaves the audience hooting with laughter. Then there is Marieke and I think that was the song where they left the original Flemish in the chorus.

And finally there was Carousel – La Valse a mille temps – interpreted by Blackman. I had only heard it sung by men before, Jacques Brel himself on an old recording and Michael Heltau, now the doyen of our most renowned theatre in Vienna, Burgtheater, whose brilliant revues of Brel’s music introduced me to French Chanson. And yet: Jewelle’s voice added a new level of intimacy to it and she made the song spin through your head like a carousel that’s holding you hostage while it’s turning and turning and turning even faster until you surrender to it’s beat.

Standing Ovations at the end. So very well deserved for an evening of undiluted fun with Brel’s chansons interpreted by truly gifted actors.

Plus: I rarely saw a cast so nice and giving at the stage door. One has to remember that they don’t have to talk with fans or even sign – it’s not in their contract. And yet they all do and are friendly and patient and incredibly open, which is very much appreciated by yours truly!

The show’s mostly sold out, by the way. But go, try to get spare tickets – it’s worth it!!

Do Not Go Gentle July 2010

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UPDATE from August –

and no surprise so far: I still loved it. At the end of the performance I saw there was breathless silence for long seconds, then something like a collective breath to come out of the spell Geraint Wyn Davies has woven with his voice and then the well deserved Standing Ovation. God, it was brilliant, it’s as if it gets better with every performance (which is ridiculous as you cannot improve perfection you’d think). Wyn Davies himself just smiles and says humbly, “well, it’s a bit different every time”. Too bad for all those who haven’t secured tickets as now every single performance is sold out. Sigh. I wish I could go again. And again.

And please, dearest Stratford/ON, are we going to get “Under Milk Way” with Geraint Wyn Davies soon? Thank you!

I loved it.

Which might not come as a surprise as it’s a one man show with one of my favorite actors, Geraint Wyn Davies; and I have seen it already more than just a couple of times when it had its run on Broadway in New York. And it was brilliant then.

That said: it’s even better in Stratford. A lady with whom I talked after the play about it, coined the phrase: he’s at home here, referring to Wyn Davies’ obvious love for the Shakespeare-devoted city of Stratford. And maybe that’s it.

At a sold out Avon Studio (even Des McAnuff and Dean Gabourie only found seats somewhere in the middle and in the back of the theatre) the play captured the hauntingly heartwrenching story about Dylan Thomas raging against the fading of the light with all its tenderness, its raunchiness and its almost helpless search for acceptance. Leon Pownall, who wrote the play, and Geraint Wyn Davies create a stunning glimpse into the very soul of poet Dylan Thomas, who was torn between a rather persistent inferiority complex and the need to overcome that with the help of alcohol – a lot of alcohol. Dylan Thomas’ lyrics have an eerily beautiful melody to them, a haunting rhythm that you can just fall into and let yourself get washed away by it (something Wyn Davies pointed out at the Meet the Theatre he held at the beginning of the season: you don’t need to understand each and every word, you just have to listen to their music – and that’s also the way with Shakespeare’s lyrics)

Geraint Wyn Davies himself captures the nuances of the poet’s fears and doubts and with a wink of his eye or a softening or raising of his voice brings life to that tormented soul that is still held up in purgatory with no real hope of deliverance because Thomas is not able to come to grips with himself – even though they “loved me in America – loved me to death” and gave him the acceptance he so desperately had sought for so long. Unfortunately he couldn’t bring himself to trust in their judgement as he very much despised all the matrons of America and their greed to feed off his talent and not his talent alone.

There were only miniscule changes to the show as seen on Broadway (you just don’t mess with perfection). They did “re-use” the trick they already displayed at “Julius Caesar”. Then it was a picture of the famous marble bust of Caesar that got overlaid with a picture of Wyn Davies as Caesar. This time it was a rare picture of Dylan Thomas getting overlaid with a portrait of the actor so brilliantly portraying him.

That and some sound effects were all the adaptions to the show. With its minimalist stage decorations the play is all about the words of Thomas and – to a lesser extent – Shakespeare and it all depends on the skills of the actor involved to bring life to the vision of Leon Pownall. Geraint Wyn Davies certainly lives up to that challenge with ease and confidence that’s a joy to watch. The standing ovation certainly was well deserved.

Peter Pan July 2010

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If – no, better yet: When you go see Peter Pan, try to get a ticket that’s NOT in the first row. I did and I realized I could’ve done better with one further back. That said: that’s basically the only complaint that I have with this marvellous show! Also: hope you see it with a lot of kids in the audience – the way they react to all the action on and off the stage is just a hoot and definitely added to my enjoyment of the show!

Peter Pan – a children’s tale which is so much more than “just” a kid’s tale. It is a show about loss and the psychological developments you undergo while growing up – and yet it also is just a fun show brought to life with love and the heart of a child at Statford’s Avon Theatre’s stage.

The story is told by J.M. Barrie himself – he leads us from scene to scene, while the adventure unfolds onstage – with Peter Pan (Michael Therriault) flying gracefully in and out of windows and to and fro like a professional member of cirque du soleil (which, I heard, has already been giving lessons to actors for other plays). Add to that “mother” Wendy (Sarah Topman) and the pirates and the amazons and the crocodile and the fearsome Captain Hook and the lost boys and the brilliant Newfundland “Nana” (Jay T. Shramek) and you got a tale of adventure and magic that will capture the audience’s hearts in the proverbial heartbeat.  For some of the scenes the Pirates are swarming into the audience much to the delight of the children sitting there.

The pirates’ ship that appears in the last few scenes is just brilliant – as are all stage props – but it doesn’t take away from the performances of the actors who obviously have a lot of fun with and in this play which transports to the audience. It’s a fun show, a great visual feast and everyone should grab a ticket while they’re still available. I enjoyed it tremendously – and I dare say: so will you.

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I also attended a very enlightening lecture on Peter Pan before I caught the show, which shed some light on J.M. Barrie and his life and therefore on the motives he might have had to write a story about a boy who doesn’t want to grow up, even though he is left alone with a bodyless spirit as his only companion. A boy who must not be touched and thinks a kiss is a thimble.

I didn’t know that his older brother died in a skating accident when Barrie himself was just six. Incidentally that also was the time when he more or less stopped growing, staying a child in appearance forever thereafter. As pointed out in the program- the story of Peter Pan is laced with mature overtones straight out of Freud’s casebooks, but written years before Freud’s theories became famous. Barrie himself went the traditional way and married a dancer, but the marriage is said to be never consummated and when his wife “betrayed” him he sued for divorce. Alone again, he befriended five children, the sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies; children he more or less adopted when first their father, then their mother died within a short time. He showered them with presents, paid for their education and yet couldn’t keep tragedy from them: One died in the first world war, one drowned in Oxford, evidence suggesting it was a suicide pact with another boy, and one threw himself under a tube train to escape the popularity of his unwanted association with the “terrible masterpiece”.

A masterpiece that is in truth a scary story about change and the inability to cope with it, about emasculation and about loss and death.

Peter Pan, who cannot and will not grow up, summons the Lost Boys around him – male children who fell out of their prams and weren’t collected within seven days. Girls don’t fall out of prams, they’re too intelligent for that. His inability to understand what girls who grow older and into women might want from him and his fear of their feelings for him. His only friend therefore the bodyless Tinkerbell, a fairy that lives in a “boudoir” in his hideout. That she loves him, that Tiger Lilly loves him, that Wendy loves him he doesn’t want to know, doesn’t dare to explore. He rather doesn’t grow up at all.

Mr Darling who is unsuccessful in his job and even has to do his wife’s work at home – and who feels very much emasculated by not being able to be the breadwinner.

And finally all the losses: The Darlings losing their children, Hook losing his arm, he Lost Boys losing their mothers, the pirates losing their lives and finally Wendy losing her first love in favor of being a chaste mother to the man she’d rather kiss.

Knowing all that lifts  the cheery children’s tale to a whole new level of perception. So it’s not only a lovely adventure for all the kids and the kid in any grown up but also a very adult piece of intelligent theatre that is brought to life in an amazing way in the Avon theatre. Go, see for yourself!

Stratford July 2010

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Just a few words before the actual reviews begin.

I love this festival. Everybody should go there and participate in their brilliant activities. I mean, what’s not to love.

First of all: Adore the B&B I’m in; at the arbour garden everyone’s welcomed just like a family member. And Joan’s breakfasts are just delicious. You have a nice chat in the mornings with other guests, her and hubby Brian and just enjoy the atmosphere. Brilliant.

Then go out and have a Meet the Festival with various actors (you struck gold when its actors like Geraint Wyn Davies and Bruce Dow. Then it’s just one big laugh!)

On my first day I already had a foyer lecture about the Tempest (incredibly interesting: the “aarrrrghhh” all the pirates in the movies have to yell quite mandatory stems from yargh, which means tight or fast – as in pull the sails tight or move it!) then a Table Talk (which means a nice buffet in the company of other theatre crazies and a lecture by a university professor afterwards) about Peter Pan. Which all of a sudden turns from a children’s tale into a story of emasculated men and threatening women all of a sudden, which becomes understandable as soon as you hear about the life of J.M. Barrie, who wrote the story.

I hurried to go to my first Tempest then – review to come as soon as I have another minute; and then it was off to a filming of The Tempest to watch Christopher Plummer turn on his magic at the drop of a – no, not a hat, but an Okay! That man is brilliant, absolutely. And incredibly giving – even tho he only had a minute between the show and the filming, he stopped in about 100 degrees celsius with about 90 percent humidity and still signed my festival book and had the time to share a couple of words.

Filming in an increasingly cold theatre ended about 10.30ish and I got home at 11. And that’s only the first day of my vacation! YAY!!

so stay tuned for more about the Stratford Festival in Ontario.