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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Re-casting for Titus Andronicus and Richard III

With the untimely and unfortunate passing of actor Peter Donaldson, the roles he was slated to play in Titus Andronicus and Richard III have been recast.

David Ferry, last seen on Stratford stages in Morris Panych's Moby Dick, will be taking on the role of Marcus Andronicus.

The role of Buckingham in Richard III will now be played by long-time Stratford Festival veteran, Wayne Best.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Memory Plays in Bolsheviki

Robert King stars in Bolsheviki
Bolsheviki, by David Fennario
Directed by Guy Sprung
Starring Robert King
Alternative Theatre Works, Factory 163, Stratford

The story: Journalist Jerry Nines recalls his meeting with Harry “Rosie” Rollins on Remembrance Day, 1978. The World War I veteran tells Jerry his story of the Great War, the battles he fought, the friends he lost, and the government who betrayed them on their return home. Rosie’s experiences are not always the ones highlighted in history books, however, and Jerry begins to understand why Rosie turned “Bolsheviki”, and how even today not much has changed.

Remembrance plays a large part in this play – but as Rosie notes, “sometimes when you get older what you remember are just things you wanted to happen.” Or else we remember what governments and history books tell us to. But not all facts are recorded in history books, and not all memories can be suppressed by government. Playwright David Fennario’s own 1978 meeting with a WWI veteran inspired this play which will find agreement in audiences with left-leaning tendencies, and perhaps confront uncomfortable truths in those who are pro-military.

The play is also about historical events that are glorified, and ones that are horrifying. Ypres and Vimy Ridge, and the muck that bogged men down. The officers who played with their soldiers lives like toys. Quebec’s anti-conscription riots, and the Winnipeg riots in which the Canadian government actually shot at protesters – made up of folks who’d risked their lives for the country in war. Canada's current troops in Afghanistan are also given mention, and although the historical accuracy of Jerry's statement about how the Taliban came to be in power is a bit fuzzy (for a long-time reporter), the message is the same - the glorification of war is only honourable if our veterans of those wars are treated with honour. The play’s intention is firmly in the de-glorification camp, as would be expected from Mr. Fennario, a long-time anti-war activist.

It is not to say that the play disrespects veterans, far from it. Deft direction from Guy Sprung and Robert King’s innate integrity bring a weight and pathos to both Rosie and Jerry; where other actors could easily turn Rosie into simply an old fool, or worse yet, a clown, Mr. King instead shows Rosie’s natural instinct for survival through gumption and just a hint of subversion. But he is never a clown, however much the play’s text allows him to crack up the audience with quips and jokes. With specifics and self-made sound effects that only a veteran could supply, Mr. King obviously respects Rosie’s un-rosy remembrances of battles and lost friends, as the memories seem as real to Rosie now as then. This makes them real and poignant for the audience, something not all actors could easily accomplish.

Factory 163 is a wonderful venue for just such a play; its rustic and cozy nature lends a great deal of intimacy in getting to know Rosie and the other characters. Bolsheviki contines here until February 12.

Other reviews:
Montreal Gazette
Montreal Mirror
On playwright David Fennario:
Montreal Gazette

Monday, 7 February 2011

Festival wins big in Broadway World’s Fans’ Choice Awards

[Press Release]

February 2, 2011… The people have voted and they love the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. this week announced the winners of the first Theatre Fans’ Choice Awards in Toronto, and the Festival won in five categories, including Best Play for The Tempest.

Artistic Director Des McAnuff, who directed The Tempest, also directed Jersey Boys (a Dancap Production), which won for Best Musical. Mr. McAnuff has an impressive season lined up for 2011, which includes Twelfth Night and Jesus Christ Superstar, both of which he will direct.

“What a great way to hear the voice of theatre lovers!” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “We know from Facebook and Twitter that fans really enjoyed the Stratford experience last season, and now we’re grateful that they have taken the time to show their support by voting for us online. Thanks go to for initiating the awards and for spreading the word about all the great theatre in Toronto and the surrounding area.”

“What is particularly gratifying about this recognition,” says Mr. McAnuff, “is that it comes from the very people for whom we make theatre in the first place: the theatregoing public. I am delighted that the work of our Stratford company has met with such positive response in three key areas of our repertoire – Shakespeare, musical theatre and family-oriented drama – and I extend my warmest congratulations to all our award-winners.”

The Tempest was a true favourite among voters. Christopher Plummer was named Best Actor in a Play for his portrayal of Prospero. Julyana Soelistyo, who played Ariel, shared the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role. Her co-winner, also from the Festival, Seana McKenna, was chosen for her performance as Paulina in The Winter’s Tale.

Fans are already eagerly anticipating Ms McKenna’s return to Stratford this season. Having played almost every one of Shakespeare’s leading ladies, she now starts taking on the men, playing the title role in Richard III. She will also perform the one-woman show Shakespeare’s Will.

Newcomer Josh Young was voted Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Che in Evita, his Stratford debut. He returns this season to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and Connie in The Grapes of Wrath.
The award for Best Direction of a Play went to Tim Carroll for Peter Pan, which was indeed a huge hit for fans of all ages. The production marked Mr. Carroll’s Stratford directorial debut. says tens of thousands of votes were cast over six weeks in the 2010 Theatre Fans’ Choice Awards. There were 430 nominees in 25 categories. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival and its artists garnered dozens of nominations and received 23 runner-up awards in addition to the five wins. A full list of winners and runners-up can be found at

Tickets for the exciting 2011 season are on sale now. To order call the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit

The season, which begins April 16, features The Merry Wives of Windsor, Camelot, Twelfth Night, The Misanthrope, The Grapes of Wrath, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Homecoming, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Will, The Little Years and Hosanna.


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