Grapes of Wrath May 25th, ’11

That is one piece of stunning, moving, great theatre. It’ll probably take me a while to get this review done, but it’s a truly great show – go, see!!

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The Merry Wives of Windsor May 26th, ’11

Not my favorite Shakespearean play, I have to admit, but a fun little show that depends on the actors involved to transform the rather harsh tale of how to put down men and one man in particular into a lightfooted comedy. Luckily there’s no shortage of brilliant actors in Stratford! So with Laura Condlln and Lucy Peacock as the wives, my favorites Tom Rooney and Tom McCamus as the husbands and finally Geraint Wyn Davies as Falstaff you are in for a very special treat!

The interweaving storylines are probably  very well known: on the one hand you have Falstaff – his belly is almost as huge as his ego -, whose only shortage is in money. So in order to become fluent again and pay for his lodgings, he decides he will woo two married women and make them his east- and west-indies as they surely would want to pay both for his affection and to keep their affairs secrets from their husbands.

On the other hand you have young mistress Anne Page who has been left 700 pounds and therefore is the perfect match for more than just one young or not so young man. The three contenders for her hand in marriage are one simpleton, a  doctor and a young guy who actually does love her.

So we have Falstaff (Geraint Wyn Davies in a fatsuit and absolutely hilarious) writing letters to the two wives, not knowing they are best friends and offended by his advances and plot to get their revenge. Which will also be a revenge on Mistress Ford’s jealous husband.Who comes to Falstaff in a disguise to check if the fat man will actually be able to turn his wife into an adulteress.

Therefore when Falstaff arrives at Mistress Ford’s home, the husband is already alerted but outwitted by his wife and her friend and co conspirator Mistress Page. This happens not once, not twice, but three times and at the third time both husbands are in on the plan, as are half  the people of Windsor. therefore Falstaff is once again in for a nasty surprise, but so are both parents Page – because their daughter has other plans than to marry either an old doctor or a young dumb. She elopes with her true love and comes back married – as does the doctor who unwittingly tied the knot with a boy!

The play itself had been commissioned and demanded by Queen Elisabeth herself – she loved the character of Falstaff so much she wanted to see him in love – well, obviously Shakespeare had other intentions, but he delivered a Falstaff-centered play. And therefore what you need is a very good Falstaff – take for instance Geraint Wyn Davies!

He lost 20 pounds since last year to make King Arthur in Camelot perfect (talk about method acting – all the girls at the theatre wanted to know just WHAT his secret was to lose that much weight) but now has to put on a fatsuit for every #ssfMerry performance. Which luckily isn’t all that heavy – but it’s HOT in that body suit. He perfectly combines the surprising nimbleness of a fat man with the unavoidable immobility of any large man and he is hilarious – not once does he forget to heave himself out of a chair, and when he tries to fit under the table, he really has to work to get his bum covered too. While the two wives loudly discuss his fate at the hands of their husbands, he rolls out from under the table and like a bug on its back is not able to get up again. I pity the part of the audience right in the middle of the stage as they can’t see how Geraint is milking this scene – I was sitting a little to the left and was wheezing helplessly with laughter at his antics.

When he’s finally changing into women’s clothes for one scene it is just screamingly hilarious how he stomps down the stairs and then gets beaten up, again rolling helplessly on the floor until he/she finally manages to escape. Again it is a part for Wyn Davies to prove that his comic timing is impeccable, his interaction with the audience on various occasions just hilarious and his delivery spot on. He turns a rather dusty comedy into a sparkly bright show filled with fun and laughter.

There have been some snippets on youTube and an article on Geraint’s parts that I will gladly add here. If he’s back next season, so will I!

Calgary Herald and other papers

YouTube link by Stratford Festival

Camelot May 23rd, ’11

It’s festival time!!! YES!!! Having said that – what a way to start into the new Stratford Season!

Not only does Camelot feature famous and fabulous actors from the Company as well as guests, its unique and fun take on Arthurian legend is brilliantly different, yet still recognisable and its music makes me love this musical (I know, I know, I keep saying I don’t like musicals.-.. well, I’ve decided, this isn’t one. So there!) 😉

Also this particular production has some incredibly fantastic visual treats that are beyond awesome. There is in fact only one scene I didn’t like in it and I will come to that a little later, but I realise that I’m probably nitpicking.

The introductory music brings us straight to the woods close to Camelot, – the art department provided a floor made of amazing gold and green and blue inlays that I’d kill to possess if I only had a room big enough to show it off properly. A very old Merlin is following a very young Arthur around – calling out for him – and all of a sudden from high up above an honest to god real life HAWK sails down to land on Merlin’s fist only to grab the piece of meat held there and covering it with his wide spread wings.

It is such an awesome picture, the whole audience goes AHH! and nobody dares to clap! A brilliant lead into the story of an unwilling boy who becomes a king because he unwittingly pulls a sword out of an anvil – he has a simple mind and is a simple boy, depending on Merlin, who grows younger at Arthur’s side, living backwards and mixing up future and past as he knows everything – he just doesn’t know which time it is right now…

It is the day Arthur is supposed to meet Guinevere – but he is frightened of her, of the concept of marriage, of women. Much to his surprise Guinevere isn’t off any better – she fled the escort that was supposed to bring her to Camelot as she doesn’t want to be sold off just to maintain peace. She wants adventure. She wants freedom. And romance. And maybe a battle or two for her sake.

Meeting Arthur – who’s hiding in a tree out of fear – helps her romantic streak, but unfortunately the young man is not brutal enough for her romantisized world view. But of course the two fall in love – she with the concept of being adored and a queen, he with her. And Merlin’s work seems done.

Now this is the one scene I wasn’t that fond of – Merlin is lured away by Nimue and in the process of that ascends upwards in an awkward crucification like move.  And as Merlin was heathen rather than a devout christian  I find that particular way of dealing with his demise neither appropriate nor does it explain anything. Oh well, it’s one short scene- there’s so much more to come!

With Merlin gone, Arthur (played by Geraint Wyn Davies – a welsh man playing a welsh king – how apt) all of a sudden has to THINK on his own – helped by his new wife Jenny (Kaylee Harwood)  he dreams up a society of justice, of power that aides the poor and needy and of governance that brings peace and civilization. Unfortunately knights brought up to fight for any cause are not that happy with a peaceful society and when Lancelot comes to court he soon aggravates them all with his holier than thou attitude and his impeccable manners. When this über-knight finally succumbs to his love for Guinevere this is the last straw to the knights’ patience.

Lead by Mordred (Mike Nadajewski, brilliant and sporting a great scottish accent) all hell breaks loose. And all Arthur can do is to go into battle knowing that he is going to lose, his life will end and his dream of a society of civilization will end with him. But then there is little Tom of Warwick, a boy so inspired by the tales of justice and the rightful deeds of the knights of the round table, that he has left his hometown to if necessary die for these stories. In his eyes is a flame and his heart sings with Arthur’s dream – and in 1500 years people will still believe in the one shiny moment of justice lighting up the dark ages, the possibility of a civilization without war. The king sends him home so that he can tell these tales to his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. This boy gives Arthur the strength he needs to be the true king of the round table.

(By that time I had tears in my eyes, of course, and was sniffling pathetically.)

It’s an age old story, brought to life by Lerner and Loewe, with enough backing in the here and  now to make it great entertainment that also gives you food for thought – wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to create a place like Camelot where peace and justice ruled?

That Arthur doesn’t come across as a total moron, a dreamer or a cuckold but as someone who wants to better the lives of the many is certainly all due to Geraint Wyn Davies who spans about 20, even 30 years of a king’s life, changing his attitude as well as his body language and his speech patterns while he matures from the simpleton to the grand king who puts others above his own happiness and needs. He is doing a marvellous job and is rarely off the stage. He also owns a lovely singing voice, probably because of his welsh heritage, and even though it’s not big, it’s very lyrical and full of emotion. Jonathan Winsby (Lancelot) does the moronic über-knight brilliantly, his voice is strong and obviously professionally trained. He manages to convey the change from moron to lover to desperate loser with dignity.  I also was incredibly impressed and entertained by Brent Carver who gave Pellinore just enough humanity to elevate him from a mere clown to a respectable person with “quirks”. But then I really like Brent Carver (he also was Merlin, and I liked his portrayal of the backwards aging man too).

The costumes were to die for – I loved each and every long coat the king and queen wore and would love to have one of them, but then the costume department does work miracles every year, so it was no big surprise that this production outdid itself with their ideas.

I will try to find out more about the hawk- hopefully I can add some behind the scenes stuff soon.

(addendum: at that point the real falconer is playing Merlin in a perfect mask – and the lady-hawk sailing down is in fact the mischievous stand in as the main predator decided it was time to have babies – she’s breeding!)

(addendum2: they sacked the dog! in the programs there’s still a dog featured and Arthur refers to being transformed into a bird and a dog once. But the dog was not very well behaved and poor Brent Carver had to constantly monitor where the dog was, catching the leash – and then it was – the dog has to go. So no dog in this play 😉 )

(addendum3: well, last time was the show of the failing sound system – not that the audience was let in on that, of course – Geraint admitted it to me after the show! They were brilliant at hiding that.

What they couldn’t hide the next time was the wayward bird, of course: Instead of landing on the falconer’s outstretched arm, the hawk did a graceful round over the audience and then settled on one of the “Trees” – basically beautiful golden constructs – high up amongst the lighting. No amount of whistling brought her back down. They had to turn on some of the lights, until finally she glided down and let herself be captured again. They restarted the show with her sitting on “Merlin”‘s fist and when later on in the show Arthur reminds Merlin of being transformed into a hawk, Geraint made this little throw away gesture – and had the whole audience laughing!)

Fact is – I got my seasonal autograph from Geraint Wyn Davies 😉 and therefore am a very happy camper!