Dick Whittington, Panto, Winter ’16/’17

theatre misc

 

So. panto.

Yes, I liked it. Loved the stage presence that is JB. Loved him singing Dreamers together with Jodie Prenger. Loved him doing the 13 days of xmas again. Loved him singing two more songs with the ensemble dancers. Loved In the Navy. (JB wore tight tight tight white shorts with possibly something under them but if so, it was barely visible. Loved him drool over a cool „audience member“ who then did a brilliant stunt on the balcony to have him quip „he’s not the first one to fall head over heels“ and „My husband’s only due tomorrow“. Loved him drooling over the Sultan (who was scantily clad and very buff indeed) and was glad when he stopped mimicking the man’s speech pattern.

Loved the wonderful costumes (and boy, can tights be tight… and knickers can betray you so hard… got an eyeful when JB „slipped“ with wee Kranky in the 12 days of xmas)

Started to really like comedian Matt Slack whose name I never heard before. He’s apparently impersonating loads of local VIPs – the only one I recognised was Len Goodman – ah the joy of being a foreigner. Didn’t help at all that he was talking with a heavy heavy brummie accent.

Hated Slack when he interacted with 4 kids – he was eye rolling and generally making fun of them when they didn’t respond the way he wanted them to. I guess that’s funny in an unkind way, but I wasn’t liking that. He only had 3 goodie bags, too, and tricked the last kid with a bell which  didn’t ring to summon the fairy. ( he was totally lost and not handling it at all when in one performance a boy with a goodie bag came back on stage to give the devastated kid without one HIS!!!!) As you can see, this local hero was on stage entirely too often together with the Dame – his mom – played by Andrew Ryan whom I don’t know. And they did another wordplay where the Dame tells her story about last night’s date, just this time not with chocolates, but with dvds. Funny, but old.

Funny, but old – the Krankies. I like them both. They are nice and hard working and fun and all that. But their act hasn’t changed in all the years that I’ve seen it. Not one bit. „Picking on me“ I can’t hear it any longer. Ditto material girl from MacDonna or the dreadful „Funny Boy“ …

Again a scene in two bed chambers with ghosties and ghoolies  coming out and the same jokes like every year between JB and the Krankies.

Jodie Prenger. Barely on stage. Two songs, brilliantly done. I would’ve really loved to see more of her.

The Cat. Twice on stage. No contribution to the story that was chopped up heavily to fit yet another scetch, yet another scene in.

Alice – the love interest. Twice on stage, so that Matt Slack joked: She’s not even on the poster. The marriage won’t last – they met twice.

The Panto was not a story told – it was a bunch of scenes, strung along a bunch of solos for Slack, the rat king, (both locals) and the Dame. JB was not enough on this time and having seen him in other pantos I do understand that he takes it easier this time – it’s just a bit of a let down.

The tech stuff:

A huge (half) rat that came out in the audience on a large black iron arm. Really well done, too.

A sleigh with JB in it, with Rudolf the Reindeer in front, that came out in the audience on a large black iron arm. made a weird upside down roll to show what that black iron arm can do.

Also some 3-D-stuff when they are “drowning”. Not very impressive.

++++

stage door – as always, John shone! how he does it, I don’t know. I also don’t understand why ppl barely listen to him. He asks for a bit more room, ppl come closer. I wish they’d understand that this is not something included in the ticket price. stage door is a privilege, not a given.

Chorus Line Sept.17th, ’16

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The precision of the actors/ dancers just blew me away. We all know that the musical is one long audition where the candidates have to open up about their innermost – often childhood – dreams. We get to like them… and it breaks our hearts when they get injured or fail. Which is of course what the play wants: to make you feel for each person on stage in two short hours. And Donna Feore’s direction does exactly that. Also she has a great and accomplished cast that lives up to what is expected of them.

But what really got to me: Juan Chioran – the night before I’d seen him in little night music, as furiously jealous Count, in one scene hobbling around with his pants down to catch Fredrik to press him into a duel, and there he was Zach, the man who is hiring, dancing and kicking in perfect unison with the other dancers. It freaked me out how talented these people on stage actually are. May I never forget that again.

A Little Night Music Sept. 16th, ’16

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It’s great to see Ben Carlson on stage in a comedy. His timing as the clueless husband of the too young trophy wife was just irresistibly funny. The story is I think well known (also I saw it before on Broadway so you can find it in my own blog. It’s about a husband finding out he married the wrong woman (girl, in this case), about a successful actress realising she needs more than another fling outside her profession and a child watching the night smile three times – once for the young, (as the young wife finds love with her husband’s son and two servants indulge in a fling) once for the adults, (the actress (Yanna McIntosh) and the married man(Carlson as Fredrik)  coming together for good this time, the married lover (Juan Chioran) getting back to his understanding wife(Cynthia Dale)) and once for the old(Rosemary Dunsmore), who smile over long gone stories while they slip into the last sleep.

With a great cast and an incredibly elegant choir the Avon also outdid itself with a lavish stage design. Sondheim’s songs never sounded better (I’m absolutely certain that this is not a musical but something so much greater) and “Send in the clowns” brought me to tears. It’s a wonderful production with lavish costumes.

An absolute winner, unless you sit next to a continuously farting man who stank to high heaven. Sigh. Oh well.

John Gabriel Borkman Sept.15th,’16

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In a world of ice and snow, the cold creeps inside you and kills.

This is a play about responsibilities and acceptance – we delve into the ugly hidden depths of a pathologically dysfunctional family with no sense of belonging, to the music of pacing to and fro, all the time, every day and night, and it hurts.

John Gabriel Borkman (Scott Wentworth) is a bank manager who got caught embezzling money – a lot of money – from his clients. After five years in jail he has been home for eight years but his desperate, futile,and ineffective attempts at proving his “innocence” have kept him locked and pacing in the upper ballroom of his once grand mansion which now is derelict and filled with papers, letters and files. The lower floor belongs to his wife Gunhild (Lucy Peacock) who hasn’t spoken to him since his trial. She too is trying to prove something. She feels betrayed – she’s better than being the wife of a criminal. so her son Erhart (Antoine Yared) will have to rectify the situation, he must restore the house to former glory and therefore must sacrifice his life to that cause.

Into this oppressive, cold and sickly family barges Gunhild’s twin sister Ella (Seana McKenna) with a plan of her own. She was the only client of Borkman who didn’t lose money. She was Borkman’s love. A love that got sacrificed for the career Borkman had, advancing from the simple miner with the urge for a better life than listening to the or sing when it comes loose, to a banker with status. Now she wants Erhart – the son she never had but whom she took in for years because Gunhild couldn’t cope – to care for her – in exchange for money.

Ella is the catalyst that brings everything down. Gunhild reveals her controlling, bitter self, Borkman is deluded enough to hang onto his shiny past to make it right there instead of trying to start anew. And Erhart has found a more cheerful prospect on life in the arms of a “naughty” ill reputed woman and won’t fulfill his mother’s dreams of justice, nor his father’s dreams of work, nor his aunt’s dreams of having a carer in her last days.

The tragedy is that neither of them actually advances. Ella will be clinging to Gunhild who in return will inherit money. Erhart goes from one dependency (his mother) to another (the woman of ill repute who takes him with her) and Borkman? When he finally leaves the upper ballroom to breathe in the fresh cold air he sees his plans before him again. Imprisoned in a past that never happened he envisions an or- fuelled future that already started without him. An icy iron hand clasps his heart… alone , even though Ella is with him, he dies in the snow, only finalising what had already happened years ago.

The two sisters try to grasp each other…

 

The play was so riveting I went to see it twice. A stellar cast feeding off each other on stage is a rare thing and should be worshipped like that. Wentworth once again dominated the play, his self assured delusions frighteningly real. That he takes his bows jokingly in the rhythm of the dance macabre did make the transition from wintery Norway back to Stratford easier. His warm demeanour towards this still awestruck fan was a huge bonus.

As you like it Sept.15th, ’16

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Yes!!! Interactive Shakespeare!!! Everyone in the audience got a little baggie with a twig, a blue fan (the colour is of importance), a clothes pin, a poem, a paper crown, but also stones, carrots,stars. And then we turned into trees, waves, we got glowing stones for a barbeque, little boxes that made sheep sounds and bells, so that we could play goats. We clapped, sang along with the actors, some audience members even got on stage to dance. To say that was brilliant would be underselling this event.

Add to that a fantastic cast, led by the goddess Hymen (Robin Hutton) who directed the audience both on stage and in the rows and magic is happening.

Set in the 1980ies in Newfoundland (one actor spoke the dialect but was mercifully translated … damn, it’s a totally different language) you have daring costumes (yes, we did wear that kind of atrocities in public. May those times never return!!) the story about a disgraced duchess who runs into the woods, a young woman, Rosalind, who is cast out by her uncle (Scott Wentworth) and flees with his daughter into the woods while dressed as a man, followed by Orlando, another cast away younger son,who’s in love with Rosalind, meeting a Shepard and his shepardess, finding shelter, becoming better versions of themselves and finally finding the love they all were looking for – with a little help of a goddess of course. It could be a fluff piece but it fits right into the festival’s theme of fugitives, finding new home and happiness despite large obstacles being shoved at the individuals.

Robin Hutton was a brilliant Maître d. , organising the audience with the help of the actors, so that in the end we all were part of the play.

I also love to see actors doing Macbeth one day and As you like it the next (or like Scott Wentworth As you like it as a matinee and John Gabriel Borkman in the evening) – it shows off the great range of talent this rare company possesses. It was an amazing play and is definitely must see theatre in the best Shakespearian way.

 

Macbeth Sept. 14th, ’16

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Another Macbeth! This time without transporting it into the now (or rather the 60ies in South Africa, even though I liked the idea back then)

No, this time it’s the classic approach with lots of thunder, lightning, howling, three exceptionally frightening wise ladies, and a cauldron that is cooking up some dangerous, evil things. It’s truly a nice change to all that “adapting” that happens in the Aeneid. Again the cast is great, the interaction between Macbeth Ian Lake and his lady Krystin Pellegrino reminded me a lot of that one scene in “slings and arrows” 💬👇- in other words: brilliant. Scott Wentworth as Banquo was fantastic – no surprise. I have up until now loved everything he’s done at the festival so far. Again he is tackling a father’s part (merchant of Venice was one of his strongest parts and I loved him in it) and it’s great to see him change from warrior to doting parent. The chemistry between the actors works, therefore a great evening is had by all.

No great surprises, but a solid performance and a credit to the festival.

 

☝💬 The scene I was referring to: in the TV show, when Macbeth returns from war, his wife – unbeknownst to the actor playing the lead – starts kissing him, then in a surprise mone rips off his pants to the deafening applause of the audience. Well, the pants stay on in this production,but boy, that shirt off scene… is it getting hot in here???

The Aeneid Sept.13th, ’16

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This is a shiny example of a play you either love or hate. So let me tell you why I don’t love it 😉

First of all: the cast was very good. Aeneas (Gareth Potter), Ascanius (Malakai Magassouba) and Hector (Mike Nadajewski) are doing a great job. I also liked the stage design, minimalist and dark, it lent an additional flair of depression and anxiety to the production.

But. What I didn’t realise beforehand but probably should have guessed: this was a total rewrite – and admittedly the logical way to deal with the ancient play in this day and age. So we have fugitives running from their burning homes in the face of a war they don’t want, to places where they’re not wanted, repeatedly giving up security and happiness for what they think is their right: land. Not A land, but land to rule over. Slowly everybody dies around Aeneas, (the princess being another fugitive who has a job, the trip into the underworld a drug addled nightmare, friend Ascanius prostituted out to the female rug dealer and finally as the last of his friends dying in the last desperate attempt to flee from yet another fugitive camp) until Aeneas, his young son and his new lover/wife find a place where they are allowed to stay, a land for them. Hope blossoms.

Unfortunately I had one feeling throughout the play: the irrational urge to scream: thank you, Canada, with your 20.000 fugitives, mostly families, for telling me, the European, overrun by approximately 2 millions of fugitives, mostly young men, that these people need help and support. Franco Canadian writer Olivier Kemeid (who apparently won prizes for this play) draws a bleeding heart picture, efficiently omitting the glaring problems European countries face under the onslaught of fugitives. Yes, I do want to help them, and I did/still do. Yes, nobody should have to run from his home. But to make fun of overwhelmed officials who are bound by laws is a cheap way of creating sympathies and in my case played not in the narrative’s favour. To leave out the problems of concerted attacks on female victims because they dress differently in the streets or -even worse- in public swimming areas, the fact that so many young men come without any passports because they are advised to burn them in order to conceal their origins and lastly the -luckily very few- men who come in the guise of fugitives but are in truth part of IS’ agents … all that makes for a poorly written one sided script that misses diversity as much as another angle of approach.

Mr Kemeid’s family apparently was forced to leave Cairo in 1952 and came to Canada. In his small autobiographical blurb in the programme he emphasises that they didn’t claim to be of a chosen people – an uncalled for slight against Judaism. He speaks of the Epic of the dispossessed and how Aeneas seeks a state, a country for his son, in which they can live , basically ruling out any form of adopting another peoples’ way of life. It is this kind of entitlement that is actually building walls between people. Walls that are enforced by an almost stubborn inability to at least learn the new language that some fugitives make their own. It would have been nice if these problems were addressed in the play, but that – seems to me – was to much to want from this script.

Fun facts: according to my wonderful host Joan, a couple of British guests left at intermission, calling the play “rubbish”. And even some of the actors themselves aren’t totally sold on it: at least one can’t wait till It’s done.