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.

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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…

Sound of Music Sept.15th, ’15

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Yes. I watched it. Because Ben Carlson. Who turned out to be a redeeming quality of the show. He was no Simon Burke tho…

The first half of the show was very energetic and has of course all the well known melodies in it … that is except Edelweiss. The kids were very well cast, the youngest girl not only talented but also really cute to the point where even I was smiling and awwwing. The second half lived off Ben Carlson’s talent to turn even the saccharine-y plot into something. I know that Disney forbids any changes to the musical, but I admit that the mock numbers of the other contestants were almost an insult to me.

But hey, they got loads of applause, I adored the voice of mother superior and I really liked the totally underused Ben Carlson, even though he doesn’t have much of a singing voice.

SIGH  I am glad though that I have Simon Burke’s music on my tablet. His CD has Edelweiss… 😳😳😳

Blithe Spirit Sept 13th, ’13

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Very apt to watch this on a Friday, 13th! (wasn’t planned though, I admit, just my luck)

It’s fun, it’s cute, it’s brilliant Noel Coward at his best – most of all when it’s played by Ben Carlson as Charles and Sarah Topham (Ruth and brilliant in this), Michelle Giroux (Elvira) and the incomparable Seana McKenna as Madame Arcati (damn, she was good in this, really!)

When Charles, famous author, is struck with a mild form of writer’s block, he invites a medium, Mdm Arcati, to gather some insight in a character for a novel. His second wife Ruth has arranged a nice dinner and everything moves smoothly until –

Until the moment the curtains flutter and Charles’ first wife Elvire stands in the garden door. Charles’ deceased  first wife…

mayhem ensues as Charles is the only one able to see and hear Elvira and Elvira isn’t too fond of Ruth, the new wife in her widowed husband’s life. Then “accidents” start to happen – to the slightly overzealous maid Edith (Susie Burnett with a lot of courage to look her worst) and then to Charles himself.  it is then Ruth finally believes her husband’s tale of the ghost of his first wife and she promises to get Mdm Arcati to help to send Elvira back where she came from. unfortunately she takes the car –

the same car Elvira has rigged in order to kill Charles to live with him happily ever after…

And so Charles is widowed AGAIN and now has TWO ghosts haunting his house and his life. Mdm Arcati is no help, until they figure out – it was Edith who conjured up the ghosts in the first place.

a hopeful and probably free of ghosts Charles is taking a leave from his house in a blithe spirit while his earstwhile wives wreak havoc in it…

 

it’s brilliant. it’s fun. And I love Noel Coward.

Mary Stuart Sept. 12th, ’13

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This is basically Seana McKenna as Queen Elizabeth of England and Lucy Peacock as Mary Stuart, former queen of Scots, duking it out on stage. Friedrich Schiller created a fabulous fast paced play about two women in a to the death fight over power. And if that wasn’t bad enough already, the men around them try to get a hand on that power as well. It is mainly the Earl of Leicester – earstwhile lover of Mary and still collaborating with her (after all, you never know who wins this fight in the end) – who is Elisabeth’s favorite and most likely lover who tries to advance his political career one way or the other. Somehow both furthering and stalling Mary’s death sentence, he weasels himself through the political maze (beautifully depicted on the stage’s floor through light direction) to tell both women what they want to hear.

He even manages to organise a meeting (that in real life never happened, btw) between the two queens – and intermission starts at the precise moment when the two women first face each other, still gives me goosebumps.

The big confrontation doesn’t solve the problems of the two women though. Queen Mary is adamant she is the rightful queen as she wasn’t born out of wedlock and deemed a bastard by her own father, Queen Elisabeth sees her as an even bigger threat now that the cards are on the table. And the Earl of Leicester (Geraint Wyn Davies, great as always) has to think on his feet and fast as he had organised this meeting in the first place. So now he is advocating the death of Mary Stuart to remove a threat (and to clear his name in the process) – and Elisabeth, pressured by him, signs the decree which will have Mary beheaded. She then hands it over to a servant, not long in her service, with no concrete advice whom to hand the decree. unfortunately the young man hands over the document to Lord Burleigh (Ben Carlson!!) who has Mary executed. this of course leads to uproar and to placate her people the young servant has to die. But things go from bad to even worse when it turns out that all the accusations against Mary Stuart had been made up under pressure.

So when a devastated Elisabeth wants to confer with Leicester… but …  he is on a ship to France.

Schiller’s play is archetypical in the way he shows the fight for power and of course the fight for the right religion – Mary of Scots was catholic, Elisabeth was not. so the bigger cause behind the war for power was undoubtedly – will the Pope win or the anglican church? The play was written in 1800 – during and shortly after the French Revolution when it already became clear that killing a king doesn’t equal political bliss, but yet another dictator with a bigger title doing the same as before (Emperor Napoleon) . It also foreshadows the era of “Aufklärung” where science became more important than religion, showing that religious fanatism leads to war and not to enlightenment.

All in all the play is eerily current and frighteningly so and it has been translated with care, giving it a bit of a modern touch without being too overtly “new”. Another brilliant example of how to do a classic in today’s theatre.

Much Ado about Nothing, Aug 3rd, ’12

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A war – we hear the distant drums right at the beginning – is over and the victors come to the conquered as friends – the friends they were before the war started. So it is of no surprise that Claudio soon finds love for Hero (Tyrone Savage, Bethany Jillard) who in turn when Don Pedro woos in lieu of Claudio  is only too happy to marry him. And while their wedding is planned, Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Deborah Hay) finds a different kind of emotion: spite – for Claudio’s best friend and best man to be Benedick (Ben Carlson). An emotion Benedick only too happily shares with her. The two – who’d make a lovely couple – hate each other, it seems, and cannot stand to be in the same room for more than a few winks.

Therefore and with Don Pedro’s planning, Hero and Claudio find the time between kissing and planning a future to think of a prank, a way how to get these two into the wedding spirit. Hero tells her maids how fabulously in love Benedick is with Beatrice and only too shy to confide in her – as she is always so ill tempered and harsh towards him. And all the while the girls know that Beatrice is eavesdropping behind the stairs, trying desperately to hear each and every word her friends utter.

The same goes for Claudio – he is discussing Beatrice’s love for Benedick with their generous general, while Benedick squeezes himself into the tiniest nooks to hear everything. Never in his life had Benedick thought that Beatrice’s sharp tongue covered deep feelings for him – he definitely must approach her much more friendly in the future.

So while the two couples are thoroughly and very happily distracted by their feelings, and their host Leonardo is happily arranging family ties with the victors, one is not so happy. Don Pedro’s brother John, obviously the loser in this past war, cannot stand to see the happy faces of his victors. With the help of maid Margaret (Claire Lautier) he slanders Hero’s impeccable reputation by bragging that he had slept with her the night before her wedding – and he does so at her wedding. Claudio believes the vile story and calls off the wedding, when Hero is not able to defend herself properly. He storms off  and Hero, shamed to death by the wrongful accusations, collapses into a catatonic state.

Beatrice, already considering Benedick her future husband, wants him to kill  Claudio as she is convinced that Hero is not guilty – even more so as Don John is nowhere to be found when they try to clear up his story. And the immediate family declares Hero dead and brings her to the family tomb – a suggestion of the household’s priest who this way wants to prove that Claudio still loves Hero.

Claudio indeed is devastated by the news that his love has died because he believed in lies – as lies it is: a group of – let’s call them thieves has aggravated the magistrates and has been brought to Don Pedro to be convicted. But they confess to hearing Don John talking to his servant that he is going to slander Hero’s reputation to put an end to this bond with his enemy. Claudio offers his life, but Leonardo orders him to marry his “niece”, who looks an awful lot like Hero herself. But – it’s a new Hero for a new life – and finally the two lovers are reunited and able to start a life where trust hopefully is established more convincingly.

Benedick and Beatrice have also found their true feelings – they do love each other after all, and now that Benedick is no longer obligated to kill Claudio in a duel, their wedding is on too.  Don John, it is reported, has escaped to another country and won’t bother them any longer. The only one still alone after all these twists and turns is the General, Don Pedro, to whom Benedick finally wisely cracks: Get thee a wife, Don Pedro, get thee a wife.

I admit, it’s not my most favorite Shakespearean play – too many of the concepts are out of time now. But it wasn’t just about Shakespeare in this one:  for me Benedick and Beatrice stole the show – married in real life, Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay had the bickering, the sharp repartees down perfectly – but the loving gestures, the glances, and finally the all encompassing kiss too. It is always a joy to see Shakespeare come to life through great actors who revel in the chance of just having FUN – in capital letters – on stage. Therefore both Hay and Carlson dipped into slapstick as they were trying to listen into their friends’ conversations. There was a lot of brilliant physical comedy when Hay actually slipped down a couple of steps on the beautiful staircase and Carlson almost broke a piece of furniture in  his attempt to hide. The contrast to their intense scene where Beatrice orders Benedick to exact revenge on Hero’s behalf was all the more stark and equally convincing. I loved the way they played off each other.

And even though I do realise that it’s highly unlikely for them to be on the same stage next year, I want to see these two  in next year’s playbill – please!

Henry V, Aug 1st, ’12

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Henry V – it’s all about the war to end all wars and the ppl touched by it in various ways. and noone wins.

I wasn’t really captured by the play. Now, that was definitely not the fault of the actors, tho. I love Ben Carlson, he can’t do wrong even when he tries on a funny not quite right Welsh accent. and he was one of the highlights in this production and stole the show whenever he was on stage.

But despite the theatrics with thunder, lightning, fire and fighting the play itself was directed to seem lifeless, one dimensional, even though the actors ran through the rows of the audience at times. I blame Des McAnuff, who also directed a Macbeth I found less than engaging. It’s his last season at the festival though – he leaves a year early – and I wish him all the best for his further undertakings. Just hopefully not at the Stratford Festival.

Other than that – the story is gory enough: to gain more power and money, Henry V, young and mostly untried, is advised to go for french provinces as he is the legal heir to them as long as the french king is unable to produce a male successor. So the british – oh, Welsh, indeed – king rides into battle and even though the odds are severely against him, finally wins the fight for domination.

In his moment of glory he shows royal thinking and marries the defeated king’s daughter Catherine to further strengthen the bonds between the two domaines. What was forged to sustain for centuries does not live for even two generations, though. In the end, all the fighting is in vain, the war between France and Britain will not be over for centuries.

In this production a couple of things are truly remarkable: first of all the speech with which young Harry rallies his troups, ending with : “We’ll be a band of brothers” – a quote used by Churchill in his famous radio speech during WWII. And they included a usually cut scene in which the heroic flawless british king Henry orders to kill all captives (while it was customary to release captured enemies in exchange of money) – they are set afire in their dungeon. Thus showing a side of Henry that makes him a ruthless and determined leader.

All in all I was very impressed by the skills of the actors who were trying to escape the too tight leash of their director, first and foremost Aaron Krohn who shone whenever he was allowed to show a little bit of passion. Also Lucy Peacock and Tom Rooney, two favorites with an amazing range of theatric skills. And last, but certainly not least Ben Carlson as the proud Welshman whose beard should get a mention in the program, too. 😉

Sadly the production itself left me not too impressed, flat and almost ifeless, although the last gag was certainly designed to make the audience smile: the blue/gold french flag is torn down to be replaced by the british white and red crossed flag, only to be exchanged with a Canadian flag in the end. A nice idea, but it didn’t make up for the rather drab directing.