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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Oedipus Rex Sept.16th, ’15

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The inevitability to escape ones fate is the theme of many great Greek tragedies. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or god fearing or even if you try to counteract a prophecy of the gods. You will suffer what you have been dealt despite and sometimes because of your best efforts.

One of the best examples is without a doubt Oedipus. The young man comes to Thebes right after the king had died. He marries the widowed queen, has two daughters with her and plans to live happily ever after, as he has just outwitted a terrifying prophecy that had warned him he’d kill his father and marry his mother – but both are alive and well at home.

Only Thebes keeps suffering. And the oracle insists that he has to find the killer of the late king. He vows to do so, not knowing that his wife had given up her baby son because of a prophecy telling that said son would kill his father and marry his mother…

When Oedipus realises what he had done, he claws out his eyes, the last picture he takes with him into eternal darkness his wife and mother who had hanged herself in desperation.

The setting was amazing. They used the choir to depict high ranking citizens and had both Oedipus (Gord Rand) and Kreon (Christopher Morris) address the audience. That was helped of course by the business man/woman attire the characters wore. And which was a stark and shocking contrast to the nudity of Oedipus after he blinds himself, or the transgender character of Theiresias (Nigel Bennett) who pranced around the stage in 12 cm high heels in turquoise and lots of chiming bling on his arms and around his neck. I thought the idea to present the Seer, the voice of the oracle as a transgender (or flamboyantly gay man complete with gorgeous lipstick) genial. No matter if it was a nod towards the ancient Greeks’ love and tolerance of affection and relationships between men or an even better look into native American peoples where gay or transgender people were said to inhabit two souls and were thus sacred, the way Theiresias was depicted here was simply awesome. Of course it helped that Nigel Bennett clearly loved to strut around and yet keep his commanding stage presence. The little klicks he uttered in order to orient himself by echo were also a brilliant idea – the audience heard him before he entered the stage and judged by the reaction of the actors that he’s powerful and possibly dangerous, so the impact of his entrance was even greater.

That said it was a truly remarkable evening – watching great actors create a dark and hopeless world.

The Diary of Anne Frank Sept.16th, ’15

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Today I think I made a bunch of actors really proud of themselves. Because I was sitting in the very first row and a tearstreaked wreck when they came out for their bows. The play was fantastic, the actors amazing and the stage design of gut wrenching minimalism. Add to that the brilliant idea to start the play with very personal stories of the actors, telling of how life was when they were Anne’s age, the experience was everything a theatre goer can ever hope for.

I assume the plot of the play is known. The Franks, Anne, her sister Margot and the parents go into hiding when Amsterdam is swarmed by the Nazis. They are later joined by Mr and Mrs van Daan and their son Peter and finally by Mr Dussel. Their suffering starts in 1942 and ends after two years, only days after the battle of Normandy. Then they are begrayed, their hidden Secret Annex discovered by storm troops. Like cattle they are loaded into trains and brought to Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen. Weeks later the camps are freed as well, but the only one who made it out of this hell is Mr Frank who proceeds to publish the diary his daughter had to leave in the Annex.

Sara Farb as Anne is riveting, and she is joined by Stratford’s greatest: Lucy Peacock, Yanna McIntosh, as well as Joseph Ziegler as Mr Frank. They all manage to convey the suffocating tightness of the Annex, the claustrophobic numbness that comes when too many people are living in too small a place and the inevitableness of bickering and quarreling that come with it. That fate then is cruel enough to have them perish when freedom is almost within their grasp is a last and fatal blow in the face of hope.

When the play ended – and I was sitting there alternately applauding and brushing away tears – and the lights came on, nobody stood to leave the theatre. For almost a minute there was this hushed silence where everyone was trying to come back to the here and now, to shake off the lingering shock of the play’s impact.

Antony and Cleopatra. Sept. 9th, ’14

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Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIntosh – two first rate actors … what can possibly go wrong. Apparently a lot, otherwise someone wouldn’t have laughed out loud during Antony’s death scene. It was probably the worst ouch moment in this production.

It started out so well. Antony and Cleopatra together in Egypt, living the good life, casually dressed and enjoying each other almost a bit like a wedded couple where the spark of first love hasn’t vanished yet. Antony mostly ignores the letters from Rome that remind him of his duties, Cleopatra trying to entice him anew each day, knowingg that her power and standing comes from his army and should he go for good, neither she nor her followers would be safe for long.

But then there’s one letter he can’t ignore. Antony’s wife died and he has to come back to Rome. And as soon he’s there he sheds the lover and becomes the politician again – he marries the Caesar’s sister. That he then leaves for Egypt doesn’t go over so well.

The Egyptian army is no match for Roman soldiers and even Antony’s oldest friend defects, only to die. One last time Cleopatra wants to test Antony: she has servants tell him she is dead as she wants to know how he’ll react. He does react though not the way she had expected. Left by his friends, his army scattered, the battle lost he now thinks there is nothing more to live for. So in a beautiful moving scene he falls into his sword and slowly bleeds to death “not dead…” he sighs. (Cue in laughter)

I was so ashamed I actually skipped stage door.

Oh, Cleopatra: in order to not fall into the hands of the Roman victors who would have displayed her in a triumph, she lets herself get bitten by a poisonous snake.

I loved Seana’ s portrayal of a mature intelligent queen who is politically aware and sexually attractive to get what she wants. She was incredibly impressive. And I don’t know if it was me or if he had a bad day, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by geraint wyn davies. Maybe I saw him in too many Shakespeare plays where he used his Welsh accent. But in his scenes with Cleopatra – even though there was much kissing and grasping – I got more the impression of a constantly tipsy merchant than of a high ranking soldier enthralled by the most beautiful woman of all Egypt.

Now,  I’ll see it again. Maybe we’re both in a better disposition then. At least that’s what I hope.

Cymbeline, July 31st, ’12

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This was the first play I saw during this stay and the last one too – and I’m glad I organised myself like that. This is this season’s one Shakespeare play everyone should see, the one I’m most happy to have seen. Which has to do with Geraint Wyn Davies as the King and Graham Abbey as Posthumus – both actors absolutely brilliant in their performance and a joy to watch. But it also has to do with the fact that it was a “new” play for me, as it is rarely brought to life on stage although I cannot fathom why: it is a fairy tale, and a beautiful one at that, and I (and the rest of the audience) enjoyed it thoroughly.

A fairy tale this is, indeed, or a dream that dreams of rewriting history so that you can wake up in the morning for a fresh start. With an evil stepmother, a test of trust, a conspirator and finally, during the last battle, a turn of tables, a growing up of all participants and a glowing happy end it draws you into a world of noblemen and -women and of war and peace.

At Cymbeline’s (Geraint Wyn Davies) court young Posthumus (Graham Abbey) grew up as the best friend of princess Innogen (Cara Rickets) – and the friendship of the two children grew into the love of two adolescents. For Posthumus it is as if he just found the holy grail – he not only has gained a lover, but also a family as he was born after his father had died (hence his name) and his mother didn’t live long either. To him, sweet Innogen who adores her hero is his queen and he needs nothing more. The two get married as soon as the princess is of age, but Cymbeline is not happy: prodded on by his cunnng wife (the amazing Yanna Macintosh) and aware he is too late to prevent the marriage he exiles Posthumus. Devastated the young lovers exchange gifts – a diamond ring for him, his gold bangle for her. And then he’s off to Rome, narrowly avoiding an attack of boarish Cloten who – as Innogen’s stepbrother – has hoped to marry the princess to strengthen his claims on the throne.

Meanwhile Roman general Caius Lucius (Nigel Bennett) arrives at court to collect the tribute Cymbeline hadn’t paid in a while – thanks to his meddling wife and his stupid stepson. A Roman invasion is soon to start.

All the while in Rome Posthumus comes across Iachimo (Tom McCamus) with whom he shares an old feud – about whose country has the looser women. And because Iachimo knows how to push the Brit’s buttons Posthumus agrees to a bet: 10.000 pieces of gold or the diamond ring, if Iachimo is able to seduce Innogen. And Iachimo wins the bet – of course through a plot – he sneaks into the chaste woman’s bedroom in a “treasure chest” and steals her golden bangle to brag with it back in Rome. A devastated Posthumus who has lost everything – his love, his faith, his queen, his trust, his family, his life – sends his servant to kill Innogen and volunteers for the upcoming fight in Britain.

In Britain the evil queen is trying out poisons she begged off the court’s medic. To see if it works she hands the vial to Posthumus’ servant hoping he would consume it. But seeing how desperate Innogen is when receiving her husband’s letter, he not only is unable to kill her as ordered, but he also gives her the vial – as he assumes a strengthening tonic is in it. Innogen’s only way out is to dress as a boy and flee into the woods, because Posthumus is there, waiting for battle. In the forest she meets an old man with his two sons – and while she waits for them to return she drinks the potion in the vial, and apparently dies.

On their way to hunt the three men meet Cloten – who is his usual charming self and manages to aggravate them so much that the older son beheads him not knowing who it is he taught final manners. They decide to join the battle but when they come back to their hide out, the boy/princess seems dead and they leave her there, next to Cloten’s headless body, covered in leaves.

The battle ensues. Just when it seems the Roman army is winning Posthumus rips off his armor (yes, on stage. yes, graham abbey is half naked through most of the second part and yes, he is dirty and sweaty) and fights for his king who had raised and nursed him through his childhood. The old man and his two sons join too and the British win.

When counting their losses they find Cloten and the dead boy/princess, some captives – amongst them Posthumus and Iachimo – with them. It is then Cymbeline learns that his queen, thinking he lost, has killed herself, but that his daughter isn’t dead at all as the poison the court’s medic has given the queen would not kill, only incapacitate. Tormented by his conscience Iachimo finally apologises and admits that Innogen had sent him packing but that he had stolen her bangle and betrayed her trust. She is the chaste wife Posthumus has been bragging about. It is then that she opens her eyes and the pair is finally reunited in love. And when Cymbeline asks who the bravest fighter for them was, he finds it was Posthumus – and the two young strangers. But they aren’t strangers after all. They are his two sons who had been abducted by a general who had been – falsely? – accused of treason and sent into exile. He had brought them up and returns them to their rightful station now.

Cymbeline, feeling as if the dark clouds of a nightmare have been lifted from his shoulders, pardons the general and his son who’d killed Cloten, and Iachimo and – as his sons are back and will succeed him on his throne – finally blesses his daughter’s marriage with Posthumus (who is still half naked). He even grants Caius Lucius a pardon and even though the British army has won the battle he accepts to pay the tribute to Rome.

So was all this a dream? A chimaera to rewrite history to gain peace and rid themselves of all evil that had befallen the court? Or had all that truly happened so that true heroes were able to rise from the ashes of a battlefield and create a better future? It’s up to everyone’s interpretation and it certainly is food for thought. But even if you don’t want to analyse / over-analyse the play, it is a wonderful piece, incredibly modern and full of “action”, with tender moments as well as violent ones (the “stealing of a bangle/belt etc was synonymous for rape since the medieval ages – remember Siegfried and Brunhilde in Nibelungenlied and I think  Tristan/Tantris and the wife of the knight).

Also, Stratford’s supply of fantastic actors is amazing – Graham Abbey better be in next year’s playbill, too – he was truly magnificent and not because he lacked clothing  (but he was half naked for most of the second half; thank you, wardrobe department, I owe you chocolate!) – his ability to make the audience sniffle is definitely a bonus. Tom McCamus is his suave self once again, making the seducer believable and even likeable (almost) and Queen Yanna McIntosh scared the bejeesus out of me. Add to that Geraint Wyn Davies who starts and ends the play sleeping, dreaming, or is he?, and it’s the perfect set up for an enjoyable evening in which great actors obviously have fun being mean, or in love, charming or rough and finally just on stage to give the audience a brilliant time.

All in all I wish I hadn’t been so damn tired both times I saw it – this stagedoor would have been an amazing treat!

Elektra, July 31st, ’12

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Everyone’s suffered through Sophokles at some point in their school life. Only very few will have liked his plays. I certainly didn’t.
But

If you have the chance to see Elektra in Stratford/Ontario, take it and go see it. Not only is there an outstanding female cast that draws you in, it’s particularly the way they dealt with the chorus that made me forget I had no luggage and the jetlag from hell.

The story is well known, of course: Elektra is the only one refusing to forget what her mother, the queen, and her lover, now king, Aigisthos, had done: They’d slain Agamemnon together, out of revenge because Agamemnon had been ordered to kill Iphigenie as an offering to the gods, in order to sail to Troy.

For Elektra, her father’s deed, the killing of her sister, was just tho, as it was ordered by the gods. Very much unlike the murder of her father, undertaken by her mother whose motives were not just revenge for a dead daughter but also the urge to be with her new lover, Aigisthos.

And so – even 10 years later – she calls for revenge, makes mourning her life, as she isn’t able to take initiative and do something herself. Even though the choir tries to placate her – and brilliantly so, all rhythm and wordplay, clapping, slapping, tapping, a stomping beat that almost hypnotizes everyone with its steady drum, almost like  a heartbeat, a lifeline Elektra doesn’t want to grasp.

It is her brother Orestes she puts all her hope in. Her brother whom she rescued after her father’s murder and sent him away to safety. Her brother who, she is sure, has to be sure to survive, will one day avenge the brutal slaying of her father.

And then it is reported her brother died. In a carriage race he was killed while winning. And while her mother is rejoicing because her only enemy is now out of the way, Elektra is almost catatonic with grief. Her only hope is gone. she will never have the chance to avenge her father – as a woman, that chance was almost nil anyway, and it is definitely gone now.

But when life seems most tragic, there’s a silver lining: Orestes had made up the story of his death. He is already at the temple, reconciling with his sister and planning his revenge. A revenge that seems almost anticlimactic: he kills his mother in her rooms, then waits for Aigisthos to show up and has the drunken, screaming man dragged out to  be killed, too. The huge palace doors shut. Elektra is outside again – outside of the revenge she had lived for. Outside of the world she has no chance of joining after the decade of mourning. Outside. And the chorus whispers in a beat that’s slowly petering out: she is at the end of her journey…

Where indeed could Elektra go from there…

As I said: brilliantly played by Yanna McIntosh as Elektra, (she almost never leaves the stage), Laura Condlln and Seana McKenna as Clytemnestra, a pragmatic and calculating woman with her best interests in mind. Ian Lake as Orestes is sufficiently blood thirsty and at one point even almost drunk on power and blood, a scary sight. Add to that Graham Abbey as Aigisthos, who gives a drunken upstart, brainless but driven to power, and cast and play are perfectly suited for each other.The chorus tho is something very special. spoken by women and on occasion by a man, it takes up the rhythm of a single tap tap tap with a glass staff or a hand to turn it into a riveting malstroem of power. Amazing. Chilling. And brilliant.

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.