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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Brian Bedford withdraws from The Merchant of Venice; Scott Wentworth assumes role of Shylock


Brian Bedford
June 26, 2013… The Stratford Festival regrets to announce that Brian Bedford has withdrawn from this season’s production of The Merchant of Venice, in which he was to play Shylock. Mr. Bedford is suffering from a medical condition, which, though treatable, requires immediate attention. 

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, who is directing the production, says Mr. Bedford made the decision with great reluctance. Earlier this season Mr. Bedford directed the enormously well-received production of Blithe Spirit.

“It meant so much to me to have Brian as part of my first season as Artistic Director,” says Mr. Cimolino. “He is a friend and a mentor, as he has been to so many people at the Festival. I will be forever grateful to him for creating such an elegant production of Blithe Spirit, a show which is delighting audiences and will continue to do so all season long.

“We wish Brian a speedy recovery and look forward to welcoming him back to the Festival in the years ahead.”

Scott Wentworth
The Festival has the great good fortune to have a superbly well-suited replacement within its own ranks: Scott Wentworth. Mr. Wentworth will assume the role of Shylock in addition to playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, roles for which he has received outstanding critical and audience acclaim.

“When this situation arose, I thought of all the people – both internally and externally – who could play the part of Shylock and quickly realized the best person was in our company,” says Mr. Cimolino. “When I told Brian about the selection of Scott, he called the choice ‘inspired.’

“This will be the third role this season in which Scott plays a father dealing with a strong-willed daughter. Scott has played such leading Shakespearean roles here as Macbeth, Iago, Mark Antony and Claudius. He has been intensely interested in Shylock since playing Antonio in our last production of The Merchant of Venice.”

The Stratford Festival’s 2013 season runs until October 20, featuring Romeo and Juliet, Fiddler on the Roof; The Three Musketeers, The Merchant of Venice, Tommy, Blithe Spirit, Othello, Measure for Measure, Mary Stuart, Waiting for Godot, Taking Shakespeare, and The Thrill, along with more than 150 events at The Forum.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Extra Performances Added: Mary Stuart, Measure for Measure, Waiting for Godot

Shakespeare, Schiller and Beckett see surge in ticket sales

[PRESS RELEASE] June 11, 2013… The Stratford Festival is extending the season at the Tom Patterson Theatre, adding performances of Mary Stuart, Measure for Measure and Waiting for Godot, all of which have been experiencing extremely strong sales.

“Ticket sales for the Tom Patterson Theatre are currently $1 million ahead of sales at this time last year,” says Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “We added two performances of Mary Stuart a few weeks ago and demand continues to outstrip available capacity. All three productions at the Tom Patterson are very hot tickets and account for 60% of the sales growth we have experienced so far this year. At this time, we have sold an additional 24,000 tickets, compared to last year at this time, 15,000 of those to performances at the Tom Patterson.”

“It is extremely gratifying to see our audiences respond so enthusiastically not only to Shakespeare but also to the work of Schiller and Beckett,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “Our productions of Measure for Measure and Waiting for Godot are helmed by two of Canada’s finest directors, Martha Henry and Jennifer Tarver. I am very proud to be working alongside them at the Tom Patterson this year. Our work has been made all the more rewarding by the amazing performers we have on stage.”

Tickets for the following additional performances go on sale to Members at 9 a.m. on June 12 and to the general public at 9 a.m. on June 14:

Mary Stuart:
·         September 25 at 8 p.m.
·         September 27 at 8 p.m.
·         September 28 at 2 p.m.

Measure for Measure
·         September 25 at 2 p.m.
·         September 28 at 8 p.m.

Waiting for Godot
·         September 26 at 2 p.m.

Described as “electrifyingly entertaining and intellectually exciting” by the Toronto Star’s Richard Ouzounian and “edge-of-your-seat suspenseful” by The Globe and Mail’s J. Kelly Nestruck, Mary Stuart is directed by Antoni Cimolino, whose production of Cymbeline was one of the most in-demand tickets of the 2012 season. It features Seana McKenna as Elizabeth I and Lucy Peacock as Mary Stuart. “This is one for the memory books, with two remarkable actresses at the peak of their powers,” says Postmedia’s Jamie Portman. “A production that most definitely puts the class back in classical theatre,” says Sun Media’s John Coulbourn.

Measure for Measure, directed by Martha Henry, features “a crowd of good performances,” says the National Post’s Robert Cushman, adding: “You couldn’t hope to find better acting, directing or writing.” This production, defined as “a stunner” by Lynn Slotkin, of The Slotkin Letter, features Carmen Grant as Isabella, Stephen Ouimette as Lucio, Tom Rooney as Angelo and Geraint Wyn Davies as Duke Vincentio. “The cast is exceptional down through the smaller characters,” says The Globe and Mail’s Nestruck.

Waiting for Godot, directed by Jennifer Tarver, and featuring Brian Dennehy as Pozzo, Stephen Ouimette as Estragon and Tom Rooney as Vladimir, with Randy Hughson as Lucky, is one of this season’s most anticipated productions. It starts previews on June 13 and opens June 27.

Support for the 2013 season of the Tom Patterson Theatre is generously provided by Richard Rooney and Laura Dinner. Production support for Measure for Measure is generously provided by Karon Bales & Charles Beall; for Mary Stuart by Dr. Dennis & Dorothea Hacker, Drs. M.L. Myers & the late Dr. W.P. Hayman, Alice & Tim Thornton and Diana Tremain; and for Waiting for Godot by Sylvia D. Chrominska.
The Stratford Festival’s 2013 season features Romeo and Juliet, Fiddler on the Roof, The Three Musketeers, The Merchant of Venice, Tommy, Blithe Spirit, Othello, Measure for Measure, Mary Stuart, Waiting for Godot, Taking Shakespeare, The Thrill and more than 150 events at The Forum. To purchase tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit


Sunday, 2 June 2013

All for One and One Husband for Two Spirited Wives: The Three Musketeers and Blithe Spirit

(Forgive me, but seven plays in six days doth a tired reviewer make...)

The Three Musketeers, by Peter Raby, adapted from the novel of Alexandre Dumas

Directed by Miles Potter; designed by Douglas Pasaschuk (set), Gillian Gallow (costumes), Michael Walton (lighting), Peter McBoyle (sound) and John Stead (fights)

The Story: The young D'Artagnan travels to Paris from rural France to join the Musketeers, and finds himself immediately at odds with the Compte de Rochefort, an agent of the Cardinal, and three of the King Louis XIII's best Musketeers - Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Determined to earn a place among them D'Artagnan helps them defeat the Cardinal's men in a brawl, and they take him under his wing. Through his attraction to Constance, a lady in waiting to the Queen, he learns of the Cardinal's plot against the Queen, and soon becomes embroiled in one intriguing escapade after another, until he comes face-to-face with the deadliest foe of all - the beautiful Milady de Winter.
Left to right: Graham Abbey as Athos, Luke Humphrey as D'Artagnan,
Jonathan Goad as Porthos and Mike Shara as Aramis.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Dumas' lengthy novel, distilled down to barest plots for the stage in an adaptation commissioned for Stratford, is an exciting, swashbuckling tale of romance and high adventure - yet could probably stand to be further trimmed of a plot-twist or two to make the second half of the play as fast-paced as the first. Not that director Miles Potter doesn't have a firm grip on the pacing, which seems lightning fast for a play with some forty-odd scene changes, helped along by Leslie Arden's score (reminiscent at times of Badelt and Zimmer's  Pirates of the Caribbean) and gorgeous lighting from  Michael Walton. But the many plot-twists are confusing to the young 'uns at whom this production is aimed, so the straight-forward story-telling for which Mr. Potter is renowned is undermined by his very material.

This is a slight quibble, since buckles are swashed very nicely by his cast. In particular Luke Humphreys as D'Artagnan is a charming fellow, likeable in his gumption, naivety and even while he romances three women at once. Michael Blake plays his nemesis Compte de Rochefort with cool suaveness - and of all the rapier-wielders carries his fights off with the most confidence.

Deborah Hay as Milady deWinter and Graham Abbey as Athos.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The title characters - Athos, Porthos and Aramis - are portrayed by Graham Abbey, Jonathan Goad and Michael Shara, respectively. Mr. Abbey's broody, alcoholic Athos does not quite reach the depths of his character (the only Musketeer given any depth in the text), while Mr. Shara's Aramis is nearly foppy. But who knew Jonathan Goad could do slapstick so well, and fill out a fat-suit with such aplomb? It was a nice surprise to see one of Stratford's leading men have such fun with a role.

Steven Sutcliffe as Cardinal Richlieu. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The evil-doer's of the play are supplied by Steven Sutcliffe as Cardinal Richlieu and Deborah Hay as Milady de Winter. Mr. Sutcliffe also plays a cool customer, but with less evil; one gets the feeling he really does have the state's best interests at heart (especially since the King seems a bit of a fool, at least in this production). Not the case for Ms. Hay's Milady, a woman determined to take what she wants by seduction or force, no matter what. A last little smirk over the shoulder of a pitiable puritan she manipulates her sealed the deal - Ms. Hay's Milady is evil incarnate, and there is no room for sympathy when she is finally held accountable (a scene that is brilliantly staged, by the way).

A bit long with almost as many cast members as scene-changes, The Three Musketeers is nevertheless a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening at the Festival Theatre, where it continues in repertory until October 19.
Three Musketeers, company. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann


Blithe Spirit, by Noel Coward

Directed by Brian Bedford, designed by Simon Higlett (set), Katherine Lubienski (costumes), Paul Miller (lighting), Jim Neil (sound) and John Stead (fights)

From left to right: Sara Topham as Ruth, Ben Carlson as Charles,
Michelle Giroux as Elvira. Photo by Daivd Hou.
The Story: Charles and Ruth Condomine, happily married, are holding a seance so Charles can gather material for a character in his new book. They expect his subject, Madame Arcati, is nothing more than a charlatan, so imagine their surprise when she conjures up the spirit of Elvira, Charles' first wife.

No one does the British drawing room comedies of Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward better than Brian Bedford, and he makes sure his casts can pull it off too. So it is no surprise that Ben Carlson is the slightly stuffy Charles who becomes unhinged at the ghostly reappearance of his first wife until he begins to enjoy himself, and it is likewise nothing new that Michelle Giroux, with that voice that drips derision, was drafted to play the first wife Elvira who enjoys tormenting her corporeal counterpart.

The supporting cast is equally at home with the material, James Blendick and Wendy Thatcher as Dr. and Mrs Bradman and Susie Burnett as the harrassed Edith (whose comic timing and dead-pan is so lovely one wonders if she is related to another Burnett in the world of comedy).
Seana McKenna as Madame Arcati. Photo by David Hou.
What are surprises, however, are the performances by Sara Topham and Seana McKenna. As Ruth Condomine, Ms. Topham, usually playing an ingénue (ie Juliet) or lady of elegance, loses her bottle in the most marvelous manner on both husband and the ethereal Elvira - she has never been better. And Ms. McKenna's Madame Arcati, instead of a bohemian charlatan, is utterly delightful as a stout, obliviously frumpy, hearty English gentlewoman, British Empire to the core. She tosses back dry martinis with relish, munches loudly on cucumber sandwiches, and goes into her trances with a version of a Monty Python Silly Walk - all very unlike what you might come to expect of the character and Ms. McKenna, but enjoyably hilarious.

Simon Higlett's stylish set and Paul Miller's lighting of it don't quite qualify as a Scooby-doo haunted mansion, but the poltergeist effects near play's end, I confess, did raise the hair on the back of my neck to a degree that I will never again be able to hear the song "Always" without feeling just a tad creeped-out.
From left to right: Michelle Giroux as Elvira, Seana McKenna as Madame Arcati,
Ben Carlson as Charles, Susie Burnett as Edith and Sara Topham as Ruth.
Photo by David Hou.

Blithe Spirit continues in repertory until October 20 (not Halloween?) at the Avon Theatre.

Mary Stuart: Aims for the Jugular but Nicks the Surface

Mary Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller; adaptation by Peter Oswald

Directed by Antoni Cimolino; designed by Eo Sharp

The Story: Mary Stuart, the Catholic Queen of Scotland has been imprisoned in England for past crimes and for having a legitimate claim to the throne, currently occupied by her cousin, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. While Elizabeth is pressured by her coterie of councillors both to show mercy to Mary and to have her executed, Mary grasps at thin threads of power and narrow avenues of escape, and an orchestrated meeting of the cousins leaves one of the queens reeling from a series of verbal smacks to the face.

Friedrich Schiller's early 19th-century play, following on the heels of the brutality of the French Revolution, is a brilliant debate over the nature of power, justice, religion and morality, with a host of intrigues and well-rounded characters manipulating each other to vie for the top spot. Peter Oswald's translation reads like a political thriller with crackling dialogue and pacing, and scenes of devastating intelligence. Two female monarchs in a world run by men, both with legitimate claims to power, both in prisons of one kind or another... which is more legitimate? Which one is morally correct? Which one has a truer sense of justice? Which one has a truer sense of self?

Lucy Peacock as Mary Stuart. Photo by David Hou.
Schiller wipes the floor with Shakespeare in terms of clarity; there is no waffling Duke making ambiguous choices here (see Measure for Measure). There is no doubt by play's end which queen is the better heroine.

Which is why, in watching the production directed by Antoni Cimolino, one wonders where all the ambiguity comes from. Instead of two rulers masterfully manipulating those around them and each other, we are witness to anxiety from one queen and fire from another.

The fire is provided by Lucy Peacock, who manages Mary's inherent sensuality with ease, as well her transformation - or transubstantiation, as Schiller wrote it - into a woman at peace with her past and her impending death. Regal yet raw, humble yet imposing, Ms. Peacock's queen is sublime.

Lucy Peacock as Mary Stuart; Seana McKenna as Elizabeth I.
Photo by David Hou.

The anxiety is provided by Seana McKenna as Elizabeth, but she does not begin that way. In her first scene she portrays a queen holding cards close to her chest, subtly putting down the French ambassadors, even as she seems to accept their Prince's wish for a wedded alliance between them. But unease surfaces early in her Elizabeth and does not go away until the play's very end - too late to show a core of steel in a "Female King". The angst is a compelling view of Elizabeth as a woman, something she feels unable to be as England's ruler, yet puzzling; Ms. McKenna is a pro at amazed innocence coupled with sly glances and dead pan, deadly delivery, so why her Elizabeth conveyed more, rather than equal amounts of, angst and shrewdness is unclear.

Nevertheless, her scene with Ms. Peacock is a verbal slap-fest, riveting in its shared passion, fury and what-might-have-been pathos.

Left to right: Ian Lake as Mortimer; Geraint Wyn Davies as Leicester.
Photo by David Hou.
The role of the duplicitous Leicester is filled with magnanimous charm by Geraint Wyn Davies, who is so gosh-darn likeable that the oiliness of the character is sacrificed to a comedic boyish panic, although the spinelessness of Leicester comes through in almost every gesture. Mr. Wyn Davies nevertheless gives us a Leicester who is also a master plotter, albeit one who acts in the moment than by any long-term planning.

Ben Carlson as Burleigh. Photo by David Hou.
Leicester's chief foil, Lord Burleigh, is superbly played by Ben Carlson. Announcing himself as, "the envoy of the Court of Justice", Mr. Carlson gives us a Burleigh who sees himself as the ultimate defender of the state, a man who literally feels the weight of the world on his shoulders, and one whose shock at being banished  - or having been played by his queen - at play's end is palpable.

Left to right: Brian Dennehy as Shrewsbury, Ben Carlson as Burleigh, Seana McKenna as Elizabeth,  Robert
Persichini as Kent. Photo by David Hou.
The voice of reason in the play belongs to the Earl of Shrewsbury, played with gravity by Brian Dennehy. Here we have a man working in the best interests of both queen and state, and Mr. Dennehy gives Shrewsbury a serious watchfulness, and conveys a multiple of emotions through his wonderfully nuanced voice and the smallest of movements.

This is in contrast to Ian Lake's performance, who fails to convince as Mortimer, a man who is supposedly so moved by the sights and sounds of Catholic worship in Italy that he secretly converts and will do anything to save the Catholic queen. Perhaps this was a deliberate choice, an attempt to fool the audience since later it seems Mortimer will be a double agent for Elizabeth, but a person who speaks raptures without any of the body language to back it up would not fool the silliest of queens, and Mary Stuart is no fool, not in text, and not in Ms. Peacock's performance.

There is much in the text relative to current events in a post 9/11 society, even though ours is not led by women (yet - apologies to the four female premiers).  Elizabeth, once disowned by her father the King and imprisoned in the Tower of London, has been raised to the throne by nobles of the land, but feels immense pressure from her counsel and her people to both show mercy to her cousin - who had run to her as a refugee for help - and also to execute her to firmly stamp out any remaining "closet Catholicism".  Mary is charged with the murder of her second husband in Scotland, but it is the English who imprison her, in contravention to the laws of nations, and has not been allowed trial by her peers - her only peer being another King or Queen - but by noblemen of another country. She has been held for years without trial or conviction - just held.

The intent may have been to fire a shot across the bow of current politicos in their back-room dealings, shifts of accountability and  fear mongering among the public; the snappy textual debates about gender, justice and law have audiences oohing with recognition, and the presence of two modern secret-service men and coils of razor wire certainly give a subtle nudge in that direction, but unfortunately this production of Mary Stuart comes across as slightly more historical than political. This by no means negates the fact that this is an intense and strong production that should not be missed.

Mary Stuart continues in repertory until September 21 at the Tom Patterson Theatre.

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