Napoli Milionari Sept.21st, ’18

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Years ago that was a staged reading, with Geraint Wyn Davies doing the directing and the father of the family that tries to survive in war torn Italy. This time it’s three vignettes that portrait the struggles of anyone involved in the black market in order to not starve. It’s fun, the cast is great, I love Tom McCamus and I loved the way the whole cast is involved in the rebuilding of the stage and set design during each of the 2 intermissions. But it’s loooong. So looong… lol

The first vignette has the mother runnung her black market shop from her bed. The mattress is filled with coffee, cheese, beans… when the carabiniere come around, Papa has to play dead on said bed to protect the goods. Wouldn’t have worked, but an air raid alarm ends the investigation.

The second shows how mom makes more money by still working the black market, and the daughter now has an american boyfriend, while the brother , too young to have fought, is starting to become a thief.

The third part has the father back at home, but nobody wants to hear his story. The daughter is pregnant, her boyfriend back in the US and the youngest sister is gravely ill, with no chance of getting a hold of penicillin. It’s the one neighbour of all people mom had freed of jewellery and apartments so that he could feed his 3 kids who brings the medication … without even wanting something in return. This crisis bri gs the family back together.

Beautiful s1et design, great cast. But oh so long. 😉

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Coriolanus Sept.18th, ’18

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Andre Sills as Coriolanus, Graham Abbey as Tullus. ’nuff said

 

Well, not enough, of course. This play about power and the resentment against those in power, about allegiances and allegiances being broken, about a moral code that respects bravery and transcends man made borders and how this in the end is not enough in the name of love is amazingly easily transponded into our time with its snapchat, twitter and social media presence in everybody’s lives. (There’s even a snapchat scene between a Roman and a Volscian complete with smiley faces. Hilarious!) To see Roman nobles gathering around a round table, discussing politics, or meeting in “a public place” – a bar – is the most normal thing in the world.  Add to that the genial way whole worlds are projected, movie like, onto a blank screen, and you have a feast for the senses, complete with clips where the actor is in the sidelines, but talks to a tiny moving robot camera and is thus present in front of us on the main stage, as if it was a war correspondent sending material from the frontlines. It’s riveting. “Just once I’d like to see it from the audience’s point of view. Because we can’t see the projections”, says Graham Abbey wistfully, which makes the performance even more awe inspiring, knowing that the actors only react to clues on the blank wall. Tech rehearsals must’ve been awful.

Martius is a great warrior. In the continuous battles against the Volscians he proves time and again just how great a soldier he is. His match is Tullus Aufidius, the Volscian, another “lion on the battlefield” who gains his respect. In Corioli Martius more or less single handedly destroys the enemy and thus gains the name Coriolanus. He also gains a headwound, a deep gash in his shoulder and a post traumatic stress syndrome that follows him home. (The scene right after the battle, where they wash off their blood is textbook PTSD: Martius doesn’t recognise his friends any more, recoils in a corner, eyes vacant, empty. So well played. At the same time Tullus is getting treated for another injury in his leg, one caused by Martius who stopped their fight to let him go get medical help. Mutual appreciation of bravery and skill starts here…)

Home with his wife and son, Martius is pestered by his mother to pursue a career in the Senate. Reluctantly he does, but even though he’s coached by senator Menenius and pushed by mommie dearest, his rash temper gets the better of him when he’s questioned by his adversaries. This of course does not end well. He is not only refused the title, two of his enemies also make sure he’s banished from Rome. There’s nothing left for him. He chooses the only place where he is accepted as the hero that he is… the Volscian camp. He quite literally offers his throat to Tullus Aufidius, (small aside: had he shown that kind of humility to the people and senate of Rome, they most likely would’ve granted him the post of Konsul that he – his mother – coveted).

Aufidius though has no intention of killing his adversary. All too glad that Coriolanus has come to join him, he welcomes the former enemy with open arms, embracing him as the worthy counterpart that he is. He offers him half his pay and admits he wasn’t that excited about something since he welcomed his bride to his home. The love he shows Martius is a physical being, real and tender and running so much deeper than just admiration for an equal. Brothers in arms, they walk away, while Tullus’ young Lieutenant quietly clears away the shards of a broken bottle…

With Tullus Aufidius and Coriolanus united, the Volscians win battle after battle, fight after fight, till they’re at the gates of Rome. By now though, a lot of the excitement has worn off – Martius’ temper and his tendency to take command don’t sit too well with Tullus who finds himself sidelined by this berserk. At least Coriolanus sends Menenius packing when he tries to talk him into a peace treaty.  Rome must be theirs , after all.

But then Martius’ wife, child and mother turn up and even though he sends them away, too, years of indoctrination by mommie dearest (who humiliates him quite fiercely in front of his lov… fellow soldiers) take their toll. Coriolanus signs a treaty with the senate of Rome to leave the city undestroyed, his revenge unfulfilled. With this he broke the unspoken bond of trust and so much more with Tullus. Tullus, who knows exactly which buttons to push to bring Coriolanus to explode, Tullus ,who hid a gun in one of the drawers, only  known to his Lieutenant. So when the time comes and Martius attacks Tullus Aufidius, pinning him to the bed in a ferocious attempt to choke him to death, the young Lieutenant knows where to find it and shoots Coriolanus to save Tullus. It is a hollow victory, though, because now that Martius is dead, grief is all that’s left for Aufidius who clings to the cold hand of his companion, crying.

Yes, I am deeply impressed and moved by how Graham Abbey and Andre Sills are playing off each other, adding layer upon layer to their characters and to the lines Shakespeare has given them. How mutual respect and admiration turn into friendship and a deeper feeling that shows Aufidius’ vulnerability in this his world of fights and battles is just amazing to watch. It’s only when Martius also shows his soft spot – not for the man, but for his family – thus betraying what he had with his brother in arms, that something in Tullus finally snaps leading to Coriolanus’ death. It’s a beautiful love story that has no future and should be mourned as such. Because in the end there is no win, just loss and sorrow.

Lucy Peacock is mommie dearest. Drool. Johnathan Sousa is the young Lieutenant,  Tom McCamus is Menenius, Stephen Ouimette and Tom Rooney are the adversaries. The cast is therefore great. Robert Lepage directed and designed the set. The man’s a <expletive, expletive, expletive> genius.

Stage door: thank you Graham and Andre for the chats! 😊

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:) )

 

Hamlet Sept.19th, ’15

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Yes. Amazing. Jonathan Goad. Let me just say that Cumberbatch will have a hard time to top this performance.

Goad just has it all and it seems to be his part from the start. The man is young enough to pull the scholar off, mature enough to be a leader amongst friends and to see the political consequences of his actions, talented enough to pull off madness without overacting and finally fit enough to add a lot of physical comedy to his performance without even breaking into a sweat. Accompanied by a great cast (Geraint Wyn Davies as both the ghost and the new king, Tom Rooney as Ophelia’s father, Mike Shara as his son) this was a win from the start. Set in a non specified present where guns unapologetically replace rapiers until the last sword fight and in modern dress, it is Shakespeare’s beautiful language that brings it all together when Elizabethan English starts to sound like current English thanks to the talented actors on stage.

Yes I was/am that impressed.

Things that stood out for me: Goad mimicking a crab complete with crabwalking backwards and using his hands for its shears, then looking at his right hand still opening and closing as if it wasn’t attached to his mind or body. The one time Hamlet lets his affection for Ophelia shine through in their scene with her father watching and that almost kiss that made the air sizzle. The sheer skill with which Shara and Goad pull off their final fight scene. Damn their fight director John Stead is good! The exchange of the blades was so fast and fluid it was amazing. And finally the death scene of Hamlet – always difficult because there’s still so much text left for the actor which can lead to me thinking ‘oh die already, everyone else is gone’. Not this time. When Hamlet finally says ‘the rest is silence’ it is with almost child-like surprise. Then his body just lets go. No dramatic falling back, just … over. When six combat clad soldiers carry him out (how did Goad manage his body tension for that scene….) his head falls back – a perfect last glimpse at an unlikely hero and his finished quest.

Damn, Goad owned it.😉

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…

Measure for Measure Sept.11th ’13

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It’s a convoluted story and certainly neither Shakespeare’s best nor my most favorite play. The story of the Duke who is “testing” his subjects while he is gallivanting about in disguise to see what his people think of him and then is surprised when the one man who didn’t even want to be his replacement not only fails to lead – and executes the law by the letter, without compassion – but also gives in to temptation is weak, to say the least.

The story’s set in Vienna shortly after the second world war which is as it may, and young Claudio is set to die because of a draconian law against fornication. (funny, during the time of Empress Maria Theresia, who bore her husband 16 children, such laws were first introduced in reality – a chastity commission was trying to keep a lid on the obvious lust not only for life the Viennese were famous for, Even the empress’ husband, you see, was fornicating left, right and center)

Now Claudio has made his lover pregnant and even though he wants to marry her he is in jail. So his sister, living in a convent and soon to be a nun, is sent to sway governor Angelo (a brilliant Tom Rooney) and have her brother freed. Angelo though falls in love with Isabella and presents her with an ultimatum: She has to sleep with him or Claudio dies.

Desperate, Isabella confides to a monk – who is the duke (wonderful: Geraint Wyn Davies) in disguise – and he comes up with a plan. He substitutes Isabella with Angelo’s ex fiancee who willingly shares his bed. But Angelo has already signed the death warrant and it’s sheer luck or fate that nobody dies that night.

the next morning the duke confronts Angelo: he had fornicated as well, so what would his penance be? But in the end, Angelo will marry his ex, Claudio his lover, and the Duke has eyes on Isabella (one of the lesser believable turns in this play, I have to admit) and nobody dies except a career criminal.

The rather convoluted plot as well as the not very likeable characters make this play neither easy nor does it seem like Shakespeare’s usually very cleverly plotted ones. I appreciated the acting that was really amazing as usual, but all in all the play itself didn’t endear itself to me. oh, well, they can’t all be winners 😉

Wanderlust, Aug 4th, ’12

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This new musical is another world premiere at the Stratford Festival and it’s living up to the town’s theatre’s high reputation – not least thanks to the skills of Tom Rooney, who plays Robert Service with all the passion and desperation this character deserves.

It’s about Robert W Service, a British bank clerk who by emigrating from his native England to Canada follows his heart and his “wanderlust” he portraits in many poems. Dubbed as the Canadian Kipling in real life, he goes from job to job, closing in to the wide planes of the yukon territory that call to him whenever he’s bound to a desk job to earn some money. He died with 84, famous and hopefully after a happy and fulfilled and successful life as a writer of both poetry and novels, having it make to the Yukon as well as having travelled through America, Canada, even Russia.

Our musical starts while he is employed at the Canadian bank of commerce branch in Victoria,  British Columbia, – two years before they actually did send him to the Yukon branch. While he is in Victoria though, he writes poems full of longing about the life of a free man, digging gold, being a cowboy. Yet he cannot make up his mind to leave the security of the bank for good: He is in love with his beautiful coworker Luise, even though she is engaged to his boss, aptly named Dan McGrew. Luise is flattered by his attention and encourages his infatuation – dangling the carrot of a life together and casually mentioning a ploy to embezzle money easily from the bank. Robert is too smitten to resist. He takes the money to have a chance of a life of adventure –  only to discover that dearest Luise wanted the fortune for herself alone, leaving him with fraud charges at the bank.

But then it is she who is duped: as a test Robert had filled a bag with his clothes and not with money, on the contrary, he had returned the embezzled money back into the correct accounts, now able to claim he was just executing a test to prove how easily money would be vanishing. As he attributes the test to his boss Dan McGrew he ensures that McGrew is sent to the Yukon branch to build the new bank there. He, Robert, is going to stay in Victoria. Because only there, the owner of the bank tells him, he could do what he’s best at: to dream.

The play itself is moving and the crime plot interesting enough to capture its audience. Unfortunately the music is fun, but not extraordinary even tho they used the ballads “The shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee “, both fabulous examples of his poetic skills.

Thanks to Tom Rooney, Dan Chameroy as Dan McGrew and Randy Hughson as the bank owner (and the brilliant Lucy Peacock as shady Mrs Munsch) the play is fun to watch and left me with a smile!