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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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???

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:) )

 

A Winter’s Tale Jan.,’16

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This production got nominated 5times – outstanding male and female (McCamus and Peacock) costume design, play and direction – which of course was Graham Abbey. Damn, but that play was magical.

Brought to us on a teeny tiny stage in a small Torontonian theatre (sold out for the whole run) the audience was as close to the actors as humanly possible. In the cramped setting the story unfolds just like intended, a tale told to children, on a cold winter’s night, to lift your spirits and shorten the long and fearful dark hours.

Tom McCamus ‘ very distinctive voice captured the audience from the first moment on when we see a movie of happier days long gone, when his wife and son were still alive. The storyline was mercifully decluttered and made easier to follow without losing any of the great monologues nor one of the twists and turns that make the play unique. The terrific cast, “borrowed” from the Shakespeare festival in Stratford, breathed life into it and it was no real surprise that there were ppl patiently waiting in line for return tickets.

Personally I think I liked this version even better than the brilliant interpretation Kenneth Branagh brought to stage.his was more opulent, this one more intimate and thus even more heartfelt. But ultimately the two versions can’t really be compared.

I of course was really happy – stood in line when. Graham Abbey stopped by, he saw me, hugged and kissed me and left me with about 50 posting enviously at me. 🙂 Life is good!

The Physicists Sept.17th,’15

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Know the sarcastic proverb “the inmates are running the asylum”? Well, that’s what it pans down in Duerrenmatt’s Physicists. The play is brilliant, sharp, political, irreverent and current and with the right kind of actors it’s a hoot.

It is a hoot in Stratford. Which is no surprise given that Mike Nadajewski, dry witted Graham Abbey, Seana McKenna and Geraint Wyn Davies are sparring with each other.

The play opens with a gruesome murder:a nurse of  the renowned private sanatorium of Dr Mathilde von Zahnd has been killed by one of the inmates, erm patients. The killer, who firmly believes he is Einstein, plays the violin to calm down. He cannot be made responsible for his deed, he is, after all, ill! Just like a couple of months ago when another … patient killed another pretty nurse. Then ” Isaac Newton” could not be made responsible, much to the chagrin of police detective Blocher who understandably itches to bring both delinquents to justice. Alas, as fraeulein dr von Zahnd explains, not gonna happen.

The third patient, Möbius, has company. Years ago, after a nervous breakdown he started to see Solomon. Now his divorced wife comes to say good bye to him. She will accompany her new husband, a preacher, to the pacific. Möbius seems almost relieved about that, as if a heavy load has been taken off his shoulders.

Nurse Monika Stettler is relieved as well. She finally dares to talk to Möbius about her feelings for him. Not only is she in love with him, she also has taken his life in her hands, organised a position at a prestigious university for him and given his writings to a fellow Physicist who is impressed by his findings. Now she presents Möbius with a new life outside the confines of the sanatorium, with the life of an honoured physicist he deserves. Is it a surprise that Möbius kills her?

The third death of a nurse does have consequences though. Only male nurses will be allowed in the future, impressive massive men who are boxers and the likes.

And this leads to a surprising twist. Newton (who only pretended to be Newton because in fact he was Einstein but someone else was already thinking he was Einstein) is quite clear of mind. He is Beutler (Graham Abbey), a fellow Physicist in the pocket of an unnamed authority, paid to befriend Möbius and to garner his findings. And Einstein, it turns out, is Ernesti (Mike Nadajewski), another physicist working for a different unnamed authority. Driven to action by the newly installed safety measures, the two, even though wary of each other, approach Möbius. But he (Geraint Wyn Davies) is it seems the only one with a conscience. His findings during his time in the sanatorium might mean the end of humanity so he prefers to stay and not share his work with anyone.

But it is far too late already. Fraeulein dr von Zahnd has been copying Möbius’ work from day one and built an empire of power and wealth. The end of time has already begnnjun. And so Newton, Einstein and Möbius/Solomon retreat to their rooms, prisoners forever, not able to stop the course of history they unwittingly and unwillingly set in motion…

I of course adored Graham Abbey. His dry wit is hilarious (the translation by Michael Healey is brilliant btw) and his switches from seemingly normal to hysterically bonkers are quite something. Geraint was obviously reigned in and a bit subdued which made his part all the more plausible and Seana McKenna rocks it as the power greedy oligarch.

And that’s the amazing thing: even written in the early 60s ( it premiered in 1962) this play is hauntingly current with its depiction of ruthlesness in the pursuit of money and power, the obvious neglect of human rights and the greed that drives people to extremes. That said, I laughed throughout the play’s satirical dialogues and I’m very glad I get to see it again, because once just isn’t enough!