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.

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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???

Breath of Kings -redemption May, ’16

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This is the second part of Graham Abbey ‘s Breath of Kings. It has a life of its own but is more fun to watch in order.

Abbey has the play starting with whispers and a parade of former characters; and Richard II in his golden robe but without the crown he gave to Bolingbroke/Henry introduces us to the play. The floor is bare and barren, an intricate but dead puzzle of marvel and someone is breaking out a big piece in the form of a small coffin, his strenuous tries in perfect synch with the tock-tock  of king Henry’s staff. Because Henry never recovered from the wound he received in battle. Now, death imminent, he feels the burden of the crown, and the sins he committed while wearing it are weighing him down. Even more so as his son is still galavanting around with Sir John Falstaff.

It is a joy to watch young Hal (Araya Mengesha)  turn from obnoxious teenage brat rebelling against authorities in the first part to young hero and finally king Henry V in the span of two plays. Reconciled with his father on the deathbed he takes on the crown, the only outward change being the dreadlocks giving way to a tightly woven hairdo. This and the way he treats Falstaff – sending him away and ultimately killing him with his decision – is the first sign of growing up. 

In battle he and his comrades forge a union strong enough to take on France . And amongst his men there are the same actors who played Henry and Falstaff (Geraint Wyn Davies hilarious and insightful and wise as the Welsh commander) and it is as if all ancestors had assembled to fight the battle of Agincourt.

Again the floor does play his part in this production. The more Britain and later France is war torn and in battle, the more pieces of the floor get ripped out, revealing the bloodied soil of the homeland in the form of red wood chips. And when Henry finally meets Catherine of France,his intended wife, he has to climb over the disrupted pieces in order to get to her.

Of course the important speeches of Henry V are kept, and his passionate rousing “we lucky few, we band of brothers” gave me goosebumps. Also historically correct a scene where they kneel with British longbows and shoot and the air is whirring with the sound of arrows – brilliantly executed. (Add.: The French lost over 10.000 nobles and soldiers because of the force with which the arrows pierced armour. The English lost three nobles and “five and twenty”)

To follow both parts of Breath of Kings means you follow three generations of Kings, their lives and their influence on both Britain and France, both Wales and Scotland in a gorgeous arc of history. Add to that great actors down to the smallest parts, and you got must see theatre at its finest. The whole cast is outstanding; but magnificent in their portrayal were of course  Tom Rooney, Graham Abbey, Geraint Wyn Davies and Araya Mengesha. These four shine – and special kudos to Graham Abbey who not only wrote and birthed the plays but also directed the second part, redemption, and lent life to the uneasy, hesitant king Henry IV.

Oh and btw: they’re all incredibly friendly, nice and sweet at the stage door. You just have to be really fast to catch Geraint – he’s out and about in a minute. 😉 Also don’t make my mistake and bring chocolate for Graham – he needs to maintain his lean and fabulous six-pack for the rest of the season (remember, he’s shirtless for a few moments in part one:) )

 

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.

Othello Sept 11th, ’13

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I said it before, I’ll say it again: I wished I hadn’t seen Othello in London – the one with the brilliant Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear as psychopatical calm killer in a production that was set in some modern day anonymous war. because then I might just have enjoyed this Othello a little bit more.

First the things I really liked in Stratford’s production: I liked the deconstructed stage with its moving platform as the only prop they used aside from the odd pillow or candle, it really made you focus on Shakespeare’s beautiful words and the way the actors delivered them. I also loved the period costuming that once again showed great love for detail and brought back Shakespeare’s world.

And I really really liked Graham Abbey’s interpretation of Iago. Where Kinnear was an analytical psychopath, clinical, dangerous with no emotions, Abbey’s Iago is driven by passion, frustration and rejection, feelings I can relate so much better to than the more clinical (but not less scary) approach of Kinnear.

I then had the pleasure of listening to Abbey, Dion Johnston and Desdemona during a lecture and I found Abbey’s explanations of Iago – the way he is going from plan a to plan b and the next and the next and still is in charge of the whole operation – till the very last moments, when he makes one decision that is wrong for him – he sends his wife – while all the while he was so successful in keeping everyone from ever simply talking together – not only highly entertaining but also very enlightening.

So this could have been a thoroughly enjoyable play, you say? Yes, could have. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to “get” Othello at all. first of all they gave him a Caribbean accent (why???? in Shakespeare’s times surely the Moors he saw were from Africa!) so every time I didn’t look at Othello while he was speaking I saw dreadlocks and a big fat pot cigarette – yo, Man. Why they gave him that accent I never found out but found it highly distracting. After Johnston’s Caliban in the Tempest I had been looking forward to seeing his Othello, but was a good bit unimpressed and put off, sigh

And while Lester managed to give his Othello the depth of a man thoroughly damaged by war and not able to deal with even the most basic feelings of love, of doubt, Johnston – to me – was never able to lift the character out of a situation of domestic violence gone horribly wrong, “Aided” in this he unfortunately was by his Desdemona, Bethany Jillard, who in the lecture I saw described the violence as being about love – and only because this was live streaming I kept from jumping up and screaming, noooo it’s not love, it’s domestic violence!!! Interesting that I didn’t have that feeling in the London production at all…

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Back to the positive things:

Graham Abbey turns out to be a highly intelligent person who is quite funny as well. Very lovely at the stage door (where Scott Wentworth had just seen Othello as well and was standing there waiting for them to come out. not intimidating at all – yeah right), So I brought chocolates to the talk – which he accepted, then positioned them in the middle of his table and said into the cameras – just so you all see: I’m such a nice guy (implying aside from playing Iago as he had been teased mercilessly before intermission) I even get chocolates!!

 

 

Richard III May ’11

 

An experiment that worked out brilliantly – thanks to the marvellous Seana McKenna who proves that acting is not necessary gender significant – her Richard III not only is the “serial killer on the throne” as promised, her talent makes the audience forget she’s a woman within the first seconds. She IS Richard – the power mad runner up to the thrown who slowly but steadily eliminates everyone in his way and with his charisma not only makes one forget about his bodily deformations, but also about his mental ones. And when his adversaries and allies realise his ruthlessness it’s too late for them – they are on their way to their execution anyway.

In the end it is his own brilliant mind that turns against him and makes the ghosts of his bloody crimes haunt him, that drives him to his own downfall proving only Richard is a danger to Richard.

As I said before – the scheme to have an actress play Richard only works because of said actress’ talent. The whole production is lucky to have brilliant actors – Nigel Bennett amongst them, who supports his new king till he is sent to his death – in even the smallest parts.

Therefore it’s an overall success and proves what made Seana McKenna  take on the role in the first place: She’d taught it so often that she wanted to do the “whole thing” – a brilliant experiment, a joy to watch.

Dangerous Liaisons & Two Gentlemen of Verona Aug 2010

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I am so very sorry. Real life (bugger) and jetlag and another trip intervened so that I still haven’t had the time to post two more reviews from brilliant Stratford. I am deeply ashamed.

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So here it comes, though very short and sweet:

Dangerous Liaisons.

Absolutely fabulous. I especially loved the brilliant stage setting, all in blacks and silvers. But of course it’s the amazing talents of Seana McKenna, Yanna McIntosh and Sara Topham that really carry the play and make it an extraordinary experience. And Tom McCamus is just the icing on this absolutely fabulous “cake”!  Not shying away from nude scenes and a lot of on hand and very raunchy scenes the play and its marvellous actors  never went over the top, but wove the story of boredom and cruelty as well as love and seduction in a way that did not let my thoughts stray. Basically the only thing I didn’t like that much was the very last scene, where the card playing marquises sit around their table, luxuriously bored again, le Merteuil wearing a bright blood red dress, a red spot of light on them – and then the director destroys the eerily prophetic scene of things to come on the eve of destruction with some Sans-Culottes storming in, shoving a Guillotine in. Other than that: Brilliant!

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Two Gents.

It’s Shakespeares first play – and some think it’s him making fun of the at the time very popular dramas that crowded the stage. And indeed it is a fun play to watch, about two best friends who fall apart when they both fall for the same girl – who doesn’t want any of them as soon as she learns that one betrays his betrothed and the other his friendship. Plus: it’s the “Tempest”‘s staff night out! Claire Lautier is a bewitchingly beautiful Silvia, Dion Johnston and Gareth Potter are marvellous, and then there’s of course Bruce Dow, whose Speed has probably the only true friendship – with a lovely and incredibly patient (bordering on lethargic) Basset Hound. Those two together alone were worth watching the play. It’s a fun, lovely and sweet play I enjoyed a lot.