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Thursday, 19 October 2017

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

(With apologies to the late Douglas Adams.)

Thanks for reading and following my blog, but as of December 1st 2017 I've decided to call it a day and will be deleting the account.

It's been a pleasure reviewing the Festival these past years!

Cheers and so long,
Robyn G.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Book review: The Library of Light and Shadow

The Library of Light and Shadow
M.J. Rose



Post WWI, New York. The jazz era is in full swing, and bright young things are doing their best to forget the horrors of the First World War. Besides music, gin and fringe dresses, the occult is also a hot trend, which makes Delphine Duplessi the artiste au courant of the society set. Her talent is painting haunting portraits – quite literally. Delphine warns her subjects that they may not like what she captures on canvas; while she is blindfolded, she paints their innermost secrets, some secrets which should never see the light of day.

When one such painting leads to an immediate tragedy, Delphine cloisters herself in her studio, disturbed not only by the tragedy but also her own talent that has driven others to near madness and herself away from the one man she is sure is her true love. When she spirals down a dark path, her family – her twin brother Sebastien and her mother Sandrine, another famed artist - bring her back to the family home in Cannes, France, to rediscover the magic of her talent.

And magical it is – Delphine, her sisters and her mother are all descendants of the witch La Lune, her female descendants all inheriting both a gift and a curse as they reach adulthood.

A close family friend urges Delphine to use her gift once more; not to paint a person but rather an archaic chateau dating back to the 13th century. The owner is certain it contains hidden rooms, one of which will hold a book on ancient alchemy and the secrets of the stars.  Although reluctant, Delphine agrees for the sake of her dear twin, a decision that reveals so much more than anyone could have predicted.

A highly descriptive, lush, and at times steamy novel that is an extension of the author’s other works in the Daughters of La Lune series (though it can be read alone), The Library of Light and Shadows is just the kind of gothic-light book to read on a languid, late summer afternoon. Fans of Katherine Howe and Santa Montefiore should be delighted with this series; available at Stratford Public Library.

~RLG

Monday, 17 July 2017

Yo ho Yo ho a Pirate’s Life For All

Katelyn McCulloch as Ben Gunn, and
Thomas Mitchell Barnet as Jim.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted by Nicolas Billon
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Designed by Douglas Parashuk (set), Charlotte Dean (costumes), Kevin Fraser (lighting), Debashis Sinha (sound and composition), Nick Bottomly (projections), John Stead (fights)
Featuring:  Thomas Mitchell Barnet, Juan Chioran, Sara Dodd, Katelyn McCullogh

In recent years the Stratford Festival has moved firmly toward offering fare for younger folk, and it has become my tradition to let the younger folks be the critics. And since this year’s offering is Treasure Island, it seemed only fair to offer their review in pirate parlance, as best we could manage, anyway. After all, the audience is met with ships’ crew and invited on stage to view the world through a pirate’s glass before the show even begins – it seems only right to embrace this spirit in a review as well…

(A-hem) Fer those unfamiliar wit' th' tale, let me fill ye in a bit: young Jim Hawkins 'n his widowed mother run th' Admiral Benbow Inn on th' English coast. When an injured sailor leaves an ole map t' th' rascal Captain Flint’s lost booty, Jim, a squire 'n doctor hire a ship 'n crew t' lead them thar and find the treasure. Unbeknownst t' them, th' ship’s cook, John Silver, be really th' pirate Long John Silver, 'n once they arrive at Treasure Island his scallywag crew mutiny t' loot th' booty themselves. It’s up t' Jim, his mates, th' good cap'n 'n an ole stranded sailor named Ben Gunn t' stop Silver, claim th' booty 'n retake thar ship.

(Pirate-speak is not as easy as you’d think.) 

The bare bones of the story remain the same in Nicolas Billion’s adaptation, though there is an additional framing device – similar to that used in the 2010 production of Peter Pan but not as clearly executed – and the welcome addition of more women in the cast.  Jim Hawkins’ mother becomes an aunt who morphs into a pirate, a sister from the framing device becomes the stranded and mostly airborne Ben Gunn, and the female doctor becomes Mom as the framing device closes. Oh, and the never seen Captain James Flint is also given a sex-change into the notorious and fearsome Jane Flint.  Not that any of the younger set I interviewed noticed.

At intermission I interviewed Beatrice (age 11), Tess (age 11), and Owen and his brother Liam (age 9 and 10, respectively), to capture their thoughts on the production so far.

RG: Did ye know th' tale o' Treasure Island afore ye came?

Bea: No, I knew nothing about the story.

Tess: I kind of knew, there are pirates looking for treasure.

Liam: No, I didn’t really know the story.

Owen: …. Not really.

RG: Be this yer firs’ time at th’ theatre?

Bea (age 11): No, I’ve been here before, I’ve seen Narnia, and Alice and the Snoopy one. (That would be You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, from 2012.)

Tess: I saw the Narnia one and Alice through the Looking Glass.

Liam: This is our first time here, but we’ve seen The Lion King…

RG: Be ye not from around these parts?

Liam: No, we’re from Toronto. (He waits for Owen to chime in but his brother has opted out of the interview.)

Peter (Liam and Owen’s grandfather): He isn’t into theatre today, though that is unusual for him.
(L-R) Juan Chioran as Long John Silver, Thomas Mitchell Barnet as Jim
and Jamie Mac as Allardyce. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

RG: No bother… So how are ye likin' th' play so far?  Wha' be yer favourite part?

Liam: It’s really good – especially the bit at the beginning with the bunk beds and toy box, and how it got sort of teleported to Treasure Island.

Tess: I really like all the music and scenery – I like how they’re able to make one thing [set piece] into something else. And the actors look like they are really enjoying it too.

RG: That be mighty perceptive o' ye!

Bea: I really like the special effects – especially the sounds - and the projections.

RG: (Surprised out of pirate speak momentarily) You could tell they were projections?

Bea: (Rolls eyes at me*) Uh, yeah.

The sights and sounds of this production are really quite fantastic.  The set, lighting and projection designers have used layers of scrim curtains to create an incredible amount of depth to the island’s jungle, storms at sea and night skies, as well as the travelling maps and seafaring flags.  It is a visual treat, to be sure.
RG: Be thar anythin' ye reckon that could be better?

Tess: Well, I could see the string for the parrot the whole time – it could have been a bit more real. And I could see the hooks [of the safety harnesses] though everything else was going on.

Bea: I don’t really know who they are.

RG: Who? Th’ scurvy crew o’ actors?

Bea: Yeah, it’s hard to keep track of who they all are, it isn’t very well explained. I’m looking forward to the end.

RG: What?! Why?

Bea: (Rolls eyes at me again*) Because I want to see what happens next!

Liam: I hope there are booby traps and I think the Captain dude [Long John Silver] is going to die.

RG: Tha’s a fair thought, can I check back wit’ ye afterward t’ see if it be true?

Liam: Yeah! (A lengthy discussion about the film The Goonies ensues until intermission is almost over, at which time I asked them to think of a play she’d like to see on stage in the future, and let me know what it is after the show.)

Bea: (didn’t need to think about it) “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.

RG: Hoo boy.

There is a fair amount of commotion on the stage, and paired with the lively soundtrack it might be a little confusing for younger members of the audience, particularly when the former ship’s crew peel off their disguises to become rock-star pirates, accompanied by appropriate rocked-out version of “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”. Also, a fair number of pistols go off with very loud bangs, so fair warning to any sensitive audience members out there. While the production is not quite a pantomime, there are quite a few moments where it comes close, with the obviously fake parrot, cast members asking for help from the audience, and a few jokes aimed squarely at the adults, above the heads of the younger set.

Though I missed Liam (and the chance to lament his false prediction), I did catch up with Tess and Bea after the show to get their final thoughts:

Tess: I loved it! I’ll definitely come back, I’d like to see Romeo and Juliet.

Bea: I thought the guy who played the boy [Thomas Mitchell Barnet, playing Jim Hawkins] was quite good, and the girl in the air [Katelyn McCullogh as Ben Gunn]. I’ll probably come back because I’ll go with my school, or you will bring me.**

Tess: You asked what play I’d like to see on stage in the future.

RG: Yarr, that I did. Did ye reckon’ on a show?

Tess: Harry Potter.

Bea, offering a high five to Tess: That’s what I said!

Jennifer (Tess’s grandmother): Hoo boy.

Blimey, fair winds to ye, wit’ that, Stratford Festival. And congrats on a hugely entertainin’ Treasure Island.
Juan Chioran (centre) as Long John Silver, and Thomas Mitchell Barnet (far right)
as Jim, with members of the company. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Treasure Island continues in repertory – with chocolate bullion – until Oct. 22 at the Avon Theatre.

 *(It should be noted that I’m Bea’s parent.)
**(And yes, I will.)



Thursday, 6 July 2017

Book Review: A Court of Lions

Court of Lions
by Jane Johnson

Have you ever gone to a historic site, and felt the shift of time beneath your feet? Touched a wall and wondered who else had touched it, centuries before? Looked at a piece of art behind museum glass and wondered who had created, it, held it, owned it? And how they had come to do so?

One gets the same sense of past connection when one reads Jane Johnson’s novels. Her latest, Court of Lions, has parallel narratives – one in the here and now in present day Granada in Spain; the other in 15th century Granada, in the final days of its Nasrid dynasties.  In the present we meet Kate, a woman who has escaped a psychotic husband but left her most precious treasure behind in order to keep them both from harm; in the past we meet Blessings, who serves and loves Prince Abu Abdullah Mohammad, the boy who would become Mohammad XII, the last sultan of Granada.  Blessings, a descendant of the northern Tuarag tribes of the Sahara, lives his life to protect Momo, as he calls the Prince.  He uses his flair for disguise and spying and even his mother’s magical rituals into play, leaving wards against Momo’s enemies around the walls of the Alhambra. But Blessings’ many talents and his reckless, unrequited love for Momo are not enough to staunch the flow of Catholic fanaticism burning its way through Spain under the obsessive rulers Queen Isabella and her King Ferdinand.

In the present, Kate quits her humble job, sickened by her boss’s rampant bigotry. Visiting the celebrated gardens of the Alhambra, she finds an iota of peace in the glorious gardens of Alhambra, as well as a scrap of paper in a garden wall.  Her past begins to play cat and mouse with her, just as the scrap of paper, hidden since before the fall of Alhambra in 1492, leads her to a type of salvation she never would have believed existed.  Sometimes a slight tug on a small thread to the past can make the future shine bright with hope.

For fans Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, Jeffery Archer’s Only Time Will Tell or Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, this is historical writing at its best – steeped in atmosphere, suspense and lush writing, Court of Lions delivers a wholly captivating story and a moving brush with history.  

To borrow: Stratford Public Library
To purchase: Indigo.ca

Book Review: A Touch of Farmhouse Charm

A Touch of Farmhouse Charm: Easy DIY projects to add a warm and rustic feel to any room
By Liz Fourez

The Internet is full of DIY blogs, and one of the nicest we’ve stumbled across recently is that of Liz Fourez, creator of Love Grows Wild. Liz is a living-in-the-country-do-it-yourself queen, but without the fuss and pretentiousness of other decorating mavens, and that is a good thing. It means one may actually start and complete some of these projects, instead of just marking pages and sighing over their possibilities.

While Liz’s blog is an easily searchable wonder of her finished products, design know-how and everything else from music to gardening, her book, A Touch of Farmhouse Charm, is a truly beautiful title.  70 DIY projects laid out room-by-room, with complete supply lists, crystal-clear instructions and tips, professional photos and (yay) levels of difficulty.  For instance, you may not want to attempt the rustic paneled door (lovely, but not everyone has the skills to use a circular saw), but the table runner, flower bucket, covered books and window-frame picture display? Even all-thumbs beginners like myself can handle these projects with the straightforward instructions provided by Liz. The photos give the book a fresh, positive and relaxed vibe, so even if you are willing to tackle a more advanced project you’ll start out (at least) feeling every confidence that your project will turn out just fine.

Now, the sources Liz provides are all from the Midwestern USA (since she lives in Indiana), but it’s nothing a little Canadian ingenuity can’t overcome.   You can follow newer projects on the Love Grows Wild blog, where the instructions follow the simple but gorgeous photos of her own farmhouse, as well as on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – where she’s also posted videos of her projects and renos.

If you are just dipping your toes in the waters of DIY, this book is a great place to start, and if you’ve got advanced power-tool know-how, you’ll find some weekend projects to bring a fresh look to any room.  Have fun!

Available to borrow: Stratford Public Library
Available to purchase: Amazon.ca

Friday, 9 June 2017

Knotty, Knotty… HMS Pinafore pokes fun at POTUS

Laurie Murdoch as The Rt. hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First
Lord of the Admiralty (centre), with members of the company.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Book and lyrics by W.S. Gilbert; Music by Arthur Sullivan
Directed by Lezlie Wade
Designed by Doglas Paraschuk (set), Patrick Clark (costumes), Wendy Greenwood (lighting), Nick Bottomley (projections), Peter McBoyle (sound), John Stead (fights)
Featuring Lisa Horner, Laurie Murdoch, Jennifer Rider-Shaw, Steve Ross, Brad Rudy, Mark Urhe

Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are not everyone’s cup of Earl Grey.  Although initially popular for their subversive nature or poking fun at themselves as privileged white men (there is some debate on this), it can be hard to translate either the virtuosic musical style and vocals or Victoriana nationalism and satire into a modern-day context.

Director Lezlie Wade brings her vision of HMS Pinafore a few decades ahead of the Victorian era into WWI, when British pride was on another upswing. Fans of the wildly popular Downton Abbey will no doubt be familiar with this era, when once stately homes were appropriated by various government departments for the war effort, and Ms. Wade uses this historical fact to frame her production quite well; an estate becomes a convalescent home for injured naval personnel, with the musical becoming a New Year’s Eve diversion put on to entertain the sailors. In this context it is not shocking to see one sailor with disfiguring injuries, and he morphs into the character Dick Deadeye, one of the antagonists of the play.
Lisa Horner as Little Buttercup (centre) with members of the company.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The set, designed by Douglas Paraschuk, also morphs quite brilliantly from estate foyer to the HMS Pinafore, roughly resembling an armoured cruiser or admiralty trawler, with the double staircases allowing some vintage Vaudevillian capering amongst the many sailors, sisters, cousins and aunts that make up the chorus, including a great Charlie Chaplin foot-stuck-bucket-nearly-falling-down-the-stairs bit. 

Ms. Wade brings the satire firmly into the 21st c,. however, with the appearance of The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty, played brilliantly by Laurie Murdoch. Given that this character is based on a real man who, never having set foot on a ship or in the sea (read: never held a political office) was appointed (read: elected) to the most important seat in a time of great national uncertainty (you get it now)… well. Give Mr. Murdoch an apricot-coloured wig perpetually askew and you can hardly miss the point.  Mr. Murdoch is spot-on with the patter, never misses a comedic pop, and his diminutive stature gives this Admiral a ridiculousness on par with the shenanigans south of the 49thIMHO he steals the show, though his brothers and sisters-in-arms are not far behind.

 Mark Urhe and Jennifer Rider-Shaw as Ralph Rackshaw and Josephine.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
The story follows young sailor Ralph and his love for Josephine, his Captain’s daughter. Gilbert and Sullivan use the setting of a military ship to illustrate the absurdity – and hypocrisy – of class lines; as the captain’s daughter Josephine adores Ralph but feels he is below her rank, and is considering marriage to the foolish Admiral to preserve her station. This being G&S there is a barely-concealed dénouement in the end that reverses Ralph and Josephine’s fortunes making it ok for them to marry, and though the neat final pairings are still problematic to a 21st c audience, happy endings were a forgone conclusion so we might as well enjoy them.

The main couple in question, Josephine and Ralph, are given life by a sweetly comedic Jennifer Rider-Shaw and Mark Uhre, barely recognizable from his other superlative performance as Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls. They make a charming if chaste pair (you can’t get rid of all Victoriana at once), and are supported in their romantic liaisons by all the swooning sailors, sisters, cousins and aunts, gleefully playing along in the background; in particular the cute-as-a-mother-of-pearl-button Glynis Ranney. The dastardly Dick Deadeye is gamely played up by Brad Rudy, and Steve Ross and Lisa Horner are unforgettable as the beleaguered-father/beloved Captain and the devoted, fretting Little Buttercup.

Operetta really is not my favourite, but I love theatre that subverts my expectations, so I can fully appreciate this production of HMS Pinafore.  It continues in repertory until Oct. 21 at the Avon Theatre.


Steve Ross as Captain Cocoran, with members of the company.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.



Sunday, 4 June 2017

Cimolino’s School for Scandal shows how times, they aren’t really a’changin’


theatre review School for Scandal Stratford Festival
Sébastien Heins as Charles (centre) with members of the company.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.



The School for Scandal 


by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Designed by Julie Fox (set, costumes), Michael Walton (lighting), Berthold Carrier (composer), Nick Bottomly (projections), Thomas Ryder Payne (sound), John Stead (fights)
Featuring Brent Carver, Sébastien Heins, Shannon Taylor, Geraint Wyn Davies, Joseph Ziegler 

In 1777, according to Mr. Cimolino’s director’s notes, fake news was as prevalent then as it is today, with society rags full of soul and reputation destroying gossip supplied not by journalists but by those in society themselves.  Oh, how times have not changed.
Cheekily employing strategic selfies (including an 18th century equivalent), torn-from-the-1777-headlines projections and a few well-placed, updated barbs at the political establishment south of the 49th and texts, Mr. Cimolino’s production of School for Scandal holds that mirror up to our own selves in an almost entirely relatable way. Almost, but not quite.


Brigit Wilson as Mrs. Candour.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
The problem is evident and it is with the text, not the production itself – too many replicated scenes in the first half of the play of scandal-mongers disparaging a multitude of colleagues, most of whom never appear onstage. As overheard on opening night at intermission, “Yes, I get it, they [the scandal mongers] are awful and hypocritical for spreading gossip. Is that it?”

Well, do not despair, theatre-goers, it begins to pick up considerably with the appearance of the oft-mentioned Charles Surface, portrayed by Sébastien Heins.  Mr. Heins brings a much-needed charismatic boost later in the first half which promises (and later delivers) a little more action and excitement to come, but one does have those interminable gossip scenes first.  Thank goodness for Brigit Wilson’s Mrs. Candour who makes the comedic most of designer Julie Fox’s voluminous 18th c frock.  Athough the frocks and frock coats, while absolutely gorgeous, may also be literally weighing down the production, as they not only distract with their sumptuousness, but are also not as relevant to a modern audience. 

That being said, this edition of The School for Scandal is worth sticking out, not only to see all those gossip mongers get their comeuppance, but also for some very fine performances.  As mentioned, Sébastien Heins makes a thoroughly likeable rogue, with a 1000-kilowatt smile bestowed as liberally as his character Charles bestows wine.  His grins are matched by Shannon Taylor, who as Lady Teazle literally twinkles with mischief until she is chastened, and instead of playing it with frets and tears, Ms. Taylor gives Lady Teazle a subdued humility that suits the character far more strongly than the former might have done. 
Shannon Taylor and Geraint Wyn Davies as
Lady and Sir Peter Teazle.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Ms. Taylor in turn is matched by Geraint Wyn Davies who seems completely at home in the role of Sir Peter Teazle, turning from apoplectic to cherubic and back on a dime, never missing a beat either comedic or dramatic.  When he giggles, the audience can’t help but giggle with him; when he is humiliated, the audience is sympathetic. His and Ms. Taylor’s portrayal of a couple learning to accept and love each other despite their differences is alone worth the price of admission.


Joseph Ziegler as Sir Oliver Surface.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
But let us not forget a few other memorable characters.  We have Joseph Ziegler playing Sir Oliver Surface totally straight, which is far funnier than it seems; and Brent Carver as Rowley, the wisest person in the play and so of course the one who gets the least respect. Mr. Carver, plays the role with a good-natured unpretentiousness (he is clothed in the most modest costume to underscore this), the eternal optimist in a band of merry but often deluded players.  Let us also draw attention to the much abused and unnamed ‘Joseph Surface’s Servant’, played well above his station by Emilio Vieira, who made his tiny role in Twelfth Night memorable as well. 



Brent Carver as Rowley.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

So regardless of a languorous first half, the overall intention of the play and production is preserved nicely in the end:  Haters might hate, but in the words of the wise Rowley, “Let them laugh, and retort their malice only by showing them you are happy in spite of it.”  Words to live by.  

The School for Scandal continues in repertory at the Avon Theatre until October 21.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Stratford's Guys and Dolls: Starts with a bang and never stops

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Centre: Evan Buling as Sky Masterson, with members of the company.
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann


Guys and Dolls: A Musical Fable of Broadway 

based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser; Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, with music direction by Laura Burton
Designed by Michael Gianfrancesco (set), Dana Osbourne (costumes), Michael Walton (lighting), Peter McBoyle (sound), John Stead (fights)
Featuring Sean Arbuckle, Evan Buling, Alexis Gordon and Blythe Wilson

The hardest reviews to write are the ones for which you can only write positive things. This makes for a boring review (or an overly effusive one), and this production of Guys and Dolls is anything but boring. It is a show shot from a cannon that lands neatly on pointe in all respects.

The pacing of the production is incredible. One barely has time to catch a breath between rounds of applause before the next number / scene / laugh is upon us.  And everything else is nearly perfect:  the lighting is subtle except when it wants to be (nice scene change in Havana, Mr. Walton), the music is bang on, the choreography is awe-inspiring (those chorus men can fly) and the performances are stellar.


Very often in this show there are scenes, moments and duets shared by characters who wouldn’t normally interact, and Ms. Feore uses these to build a heart into the play that might be absent with less able directors.  Indeed, Ms. Feore can bring heart out in a show like no other musical director. Like how food keeps appearing from Nicely’s pockets in complete frustration to increasingly desperate Sky. Or how Big Jule is suddenly smitten with the diminutive Salvation Army officer Agatha.  Or the comradery that Adelaide and Sarah find in discussing their prospective husbands – the duet does not have to play out like a couple of sisters bonding over man-trouble, but in this production it does and you get the sense that both women will benefit from the friendship of the other – no matter how different their backgrounds. It works so very well at every turn.
theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown and Evan Buling as Sky Masterson.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Evan Buling and Alexis Gordon as Sky Masterson and Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown create the most chemistry seen between an onstage couple in Stratford for years.  And while Ms. Gordon is known for her musical prowess she demonstrated a range yet unseen here, from operatic to sultry, and was yet vocally matched by Buling, best known on our stages as an actor first.  Ms. Feore’s use of classically trained actors in musical leads is well known and she proves once again it is a smart choice – Mr. Buling and Ms. Gordon’s pairing was surprising but pays out in spades.

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Sean Arbuckle as Nathan Detroit and Blythe
Wilson as Adelaide. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The other pairing of Sean Arbuckle and Blythe Wilson as Nathan Detroit and Adelaide is a match made in comedy heaven. A 14-year veteran of the State of Fiancee, Adelaide's main goal is to get Nathan to the altar and away from his crap games; Nathan's main goal is to find a location for the crap game and stay on the good side of all his gambling cronies.  Never the twain shall meet, one is apt to think but Ms. Wilson gives her Adelaide such bouncy, ebullient, determination that Sean Arbuckle's stressed-out, love-sick Nathan never stands a chance. Ms. Wilson's Adelaide's Lament is gold, but a dollar will give you ten it's their duet Sue Me that will stay with you.

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Members of the Guys and Dolls company. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
There is another pairing that often gets overlooked because it isn’t a romantic one, and this is a romantic musical comedy.  The buddies Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet share many scenes and numbers together, and inhabiting these roles are Steve Ross and Mark Urhe. From the get-go with Fugue for the Tinhorns (aka I Got the Horse Right Here, or Can Do), in this case shared by Marcus Nance as Rusty Charlie, through The Oldest Established and the near-show-stopper Guys and Dolls, these two song-and-dance men deliver the goods. Steve Ross gets an extra chance to shine – and does he ever, almost stopping the show for the third time – with Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat, but Mark Uhre’s adorkable performance as Benny is not to be overlooked. (Hey Stratford, can we keep him?)
theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Steve Ross (centre) as Nicely Nicely Johnson with members
of the company. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
With this production you cannot ignore the dancers – in fact considering the choreography and pace they manage in this show it would be an insult to do so. The men get the flashier routines – the Crap Shooter’s Ballet came the closest to a spontaneous standing-o in an entire evening of outstanding numbers – but the staging showcases their immense talent and discipline and are cause to celebrate them all. 

See, a boring review. But don’t miss it just because the review is boring – odds are you’ll regret it if you do.

Guys and Dolls continues in repertory until October 29th at the Festival Theatre.

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Blythe Wilson as Adelaide and Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Taylor and Carver Shine in Stratford’s Twelfth Night


theatre review Twelfth Night Stratford Festival
Shannon Taylor (Olivia), Michael Blake (Sebastian),
Sarah Afful (Viola), E.B. Smith (Orsino)
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Twelfth Night

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Martha Henry
Designed by John Pennoyer (set, costumes), Louise Guinard (lighting), Reza Jacobs (composer / sound), John Stead (fights), Valerie Moore (movement)
Featuring Sarah Afful, Rod Beattie, Brent Carver, Lucy Peacock, Tom Rooney, E.B. Smith, Shannon Taylor, Geraint Wyn Davies

The Stratford Festival opened its 65th season last night with a solid production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Under the direction of Martha Henry, long-time Stratford actor, director and leader of the Birmingham Conservatory, this production emphasized the text and thus focused on the actors, with few – but beautiful - scenic elements to distract.

Of the numerous fine performances of the evening, two in particular were transcendent: Brent Carver as Feste and Shannon Taylor as Olivia.  The Tony-award winning Mr. Carver returns to the Stratford stages for the first time since 2010, and presents a sweetly unassuming Feste with a voice to match. With little accompaniment, aside from some hauntingly effective glassware, it is Carver who brings a necessary sense of whimsy to the production, so appropriate for this “topsy-turvy” play.   Meanwhile it is Shannon Taylor as Olivia who gives a breakout performance.  Crystal clear in her speech, inconspicuously funny and completely convincing, Ms. Taylor is utterly delightful, and treats the audience to an unforgettable Olivia.

Not to say that the other leads are not as fine; the only thing undermining Sarah Afful’s wonderful Cesario / Viola is the decision to make E.B. Smith’s Duke Orsino a scowling, misogynistic, tyrant. Mr. Smith does this well, but it is an interesting choice, to create not a man in love with the idea of being in love but a man who is angry at being denied his prize - no wonder Olivia chooses to cloister herself against such a bully, and no wonder she falls for Ms. Afful’s kindly and jocular Cesario in contrast.  But why on earth would the clever and gentle Viola ever feel attracted to such a Duke either?  Despite this misstep in staging Ms. Afful demonstrates again an almost regal stage presence, holding her own against the like of the B Plot Rascals.
theatre review Twelfth Night Stratford Festival
Tom Rooney (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Geraint Wyn Davies
(Sir Toby) and Lucy Peacock (Maria). Photo by
Cylla von Tiedemann
The spotlight is often stolen by this hilarious trio of Geraint Wyn Davies (Sir Toby), Lucy Peacock (Maria), and Tom Rooney (Sir Andrew Aguecheek).  I imagine Ms. Henry trying to reign them in during antic-filled rehearsals, as they were clearly having a lot of fun with their scheming scenes, so much so that sympathies are turned topsy-turvy towards Rod Beattie’s Malvolio – the poor guy was never going to stand a chance against these three scallywags, no matter how pedantic his speeches.  This triumvirate is just too larger-than-life for Malvolio, but so much fun to watch for the audience.

With strong performances from Michael Blake (Sebastian), Stephen Russell (Antonio) and Gordon S. Miller (Fabian) to round out the cast, this Twelfth Night is a textbook example of how good a creation can be when director, actors, design and text are working in complete harmony.  A fun, genuine production from a well-assembled team.  Nicely done, Stratford.

Twelfth Night continues in repertory until October 21 at the Festival Theatre.

theatre review Twelfth Night Stratford Festival
Brent Carver (Feste), Tom Rooney (Sir Andrew Aguecheek),
Geraint Wyn Davies (Sir Toby) in Stratford's Twelfth Night.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.





Monday, 15 May 2017

MEDIA RELEASE: Martha Henry’s star-studded Twelfth Night begins previews


Brent Carver as Feste. Photo by Lynda Churillo.
Martha Henry directs an all-star cast in Shakespeare’s beloved comedy Twelfth Night. 

Previews begin this Saturday, May 13, and the production opens the Festival’s 65th season on Monday, May 29, at the Festival Theatre.

The cast, which Ms Henry calls “one of the greatest casts for this play ever assembled,” features Sarah Afful as Viola, Rod Beattie as Malvolio, Brent Carver as Feste, Lucy Peacock as Maria and Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Toby Belch, with Tom Rooney as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, E.B. Smith as Orsino and Shannon Taylor as Olivia.

“Shakespeare’s gently piercing comedy Twelfth Night is such a great play, so singular in its characters, so deeply romantic, so bittersweet in its humour that it’s wildly popular,” says Ms Henry, “and a number of our gifted cast have been in it before – some multiple times, playing different roles. Yet each time we come back to it, as we are, as the adage points out, amazed to see how much the play has changed since we last took it on.”

“As teams go, this one is hard to beat,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “Here we have one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful plays, helmed by the extraordinary Martha Henry, who played Viola early in her Stratford career, and brought to life by a company with remarkable skills and accomplishments. Together, they bring so much heart to this production, and the result is a pure delight.”

The creative team includes Designer John Pennoyer, Lighting Designer Louise Guinand, Composer and Sound Designer Reza Jacobs, Fight Director John Stead and Movement Director Valerie Moore.

This production is dedicated to the memory of former Artistic Director Robin Phillips.

Production support is generously provided by Jane Petersen Burfield & family, by Dr. Desta Leavine in memory of Pauline Leavine and by Jack Whiteside.

Support for the 2017 season of the Festival Theatre is generously provided by Daniel Bernstein & Claire Foerster.

The 2017 season opening night presenting sponsor is BMO Financial Group.

Twelfth Night Forum highlights

The Forum is a series of events, such as exclusive showcases, guest speakers, special meals, music and family fun, that offer theatregoers a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the ideas and issues raised by the 2017 playbill. Themes related to Twelfth Night will be explored through several Forum events, including:

•             Woman: Goods or Goddess?
Wednesday, July 19
Playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald and author, academic and activist Shereen El Feki speak to their experience as female writers in diverse social and cultural contexts, discussing how the female voice and perspective has shifted over time in literature and what that shift has meant, particularly to women in society.

•             WordPlay
Geraint Wyn Davies hosts a broad-ranging series of dramatic readings inspired by the season’s themes and performed by members of the company.
o             Sunday, June 18: Albert Speer by David Edgar
o             Thursday, September 28: The Rover by Aphra Behn
o             Friday, October 13: The Honest Whore by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton

Support for WordPlay is generously provided by The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation.

The Stratford Festival’s 2017 season runs until October 29, featuring Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Guys and Dolls, HMS Pinafore, Treasure Island, The School for Scandal, The Changeling, Bakkhai, Tartuffe, The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Komagata Maru Incident, The Virgin Trial and The Breathing Hole. For tickets and more information, visit stratfordfestival.ca or call 1.800.567.1600.

Cast (in alphabetical order)

Viola.................................................................. Sarah Afful
Malvolio............................................................ Rod Beattie
Understudy....................................................... Maev Beaty
Sebastian........................................................... Michael Blake
Sea Captain, Priest............................................ Matthew G. Brown
Feste.................................................................. Brent Carver
Valentine........................................................... Mac Fyfe
Proteus............................................................... Farhang Ghajar
Fabian................................................................ Gordon S. Miller
Rose................................................................... Mercedes Morris
Maria................................................................. Lucy Peacock
Fuchsia.............................................................. Monice Peter
Sir Andrew Aguecheek..................................... Tom Rooney
Understudy....................................................... Anusree Roy
Antonio............................................................. Stephen Russell
Orsino................................................................ E.B. Smith
William.............................................................. Johnathan Sousa
Olivia................................................................. Shannon Taylor
Curio.................................................................. Emilio Vieira
Lily.................................................................... Brigit Wilson
Sir Toby Belch................................................... Geraint Wyn Davies
Jack.................................................................... Tim Ziegler

Artistic Credits

Director............................................................. Martha Henry
Designer............................................................ John Pennoyer
Lighting Designer.............................................. Louise Guinand
Composer and Sound Designer......................... Reza Jacobs
Fight Director.................................................... John Stead
Movement Director........................................... Valerie Moore
Producer............................................................ David Auster
Casting Director................................................ Beth Russell
Creative Planning Director................................ Jason Miller
Associate Director............................................. Graham Abbey
Assistant Set Designer...................................... Holly Meyer-Dymny
Assistant Costume Designer............................. Francesca Callow
Assistant Lighting Designer.............................. Bryan Kenney
Associate Fight Director................................... Anita Nittoly
Stage Manager................................................... Ann Stuart
Assistant Stage Managers................................. The. John Gray, Corinne Richards
Apprentice Stage Manager................................ Jane Honek
Production Assistant......................................... Steven Smits
Production Stage Manager................................ Cynthia Toushan
Technical Director............................................. Jeff Scollon


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MEDIA RELEASE: The School for Scandal now on stage

Geraint Wyn Davies and Shannon Taylor.
Photo by Lunda Churillo


Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino at the helm

May 15, 2017… The School for Scandal, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s delicious comedy of gossip, rumour-mongering and “fake news,” debuts at the Avon Theatre today, directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.

As hilarious today as it was in the 18th century, this comedy also feels incredibly timely. It depicts a society obsessed with gossip and insinuation, in which the wealthy use malicious rumour and unfounded allegations to bolster their own reputations while destroying those of their enemies.

“The scandal sheets of the 18th century were the social media – and fake news outlets – of their day, and we’ll be drawing that parallel quite clearly in this production,” says Mr. Cimolino.

“Written in the months immediately after the Declaration of Independence, the play carries in its heart a longing for simple honesty and compassion. It ridicules those who manipulate facts and spin the truth to enhance their own reputations at the expense of others. It uses the device of theatre – disguise and role-playing – to reveal truth. In effect, it throws down the screen on hypocrisy and corruption.

“In this age of blogging, tweeting and relentless self-promotion, we need this play more than ever before.”

The stellar cast features Shannon Taylor as Lady Teazle, Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Peter Teazle and Joseph Ziegler as Sir Oliver Surface, with Maev Beaty as Lady Sneerwell, Brent Carver as Rowley, Sébastien Heins as Charles Surface, Tyrone Savage as Joseph Surface and Brigit Wilson as Mrs. Candour.

The creative team includes Designer Julie Fox, who brings the opulence of the 18th century to the stage with a lavish set and breathtaking costumes, Lighting Designer Michael Walton, Composer Berthold Carrière, Projection Designer Nick Bottomley, Sound Designer Thomas Ryder Payne and Fight Director John Stead.

The School for Scandal officially opens on Saturday, June 3, and runs until October 21.

This production is dedicated to the memory of philanthropist and arts activist Joan Chalmers.

Production support is generously provided by M. Fainer, by Drs. M.L. Myers & the late W.P. Hayman and by the Tremain family.

Support for the 2017 season of the Avon Theatre is generously provided by the Birmingham family.

The School for Scandal Forum highlights

The Forum is a series of events, such as exclusive showcases, guest speakers, special meals, music and family fun, that offer theatregoers a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the ideas and issues raised by the 2017 playbill. Themes related to The School for Scandal will be explored through several Forum events, including:

•             Behind the Profile
Wednesday, September 20
Join Jennifer Hollett (Twitter Canada), Andrew Lundy (The Canadian Press) and Kirstine Stewart (Diply Goviral) as they discuss self-branding, respectability policing and survival on the new frontier of social media.

The Stratford Festival’s 2017 season runs until October 29, featuring Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Guys and Dolls, HMS Pinafore, Treasure Island, The School for Scandal, The Changeling, Bakkhai, Tartuffe, The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Komagata Maru Incident, The Virgin Trial and The Breathing Hole. For tickets and more information, visit stratfordfestival.ca or call 1.800.567.1600.

Cast (in alphabetical order)

Servant.............................................................. Jared Armstrong
Servant.............................................................. Patrick Avery-Kenny
Crabtree............................................................. Rod Beattie
Lady Sneerwell................................................. Maev Beaty
Mr. Balance....................................................... Michael Blake
Sir Toby Bumper............................................... Michael G. Brown
Rowley.............................................................. Brent Carver
Gentleman #2.................................................... Farhang Ghajar
Charles Surface................................................. Sébastien Heins
Trip.................................................................... Omar Alex Khan
Lady Teazle’s Maid........................................... Mercedes Morris
Maria................................................................. Monice Peter
Maid.................................................................. Kaitlyn Rietdyk
Sir Benjamin Backbite....................................... Tom Rooney
Snake................................................................. Anusree Roy
Servant.............................................................. Stephen Russell
Joseph Surface................................................... Tyrone Savage
Careless............................................................. Johnathan Sousa
Maid.................................................................. Carley Stastny
Lady Teazle....................................................... Shannon Taylor
Joseph Surface’s Servant................................... Emilio Vieira
Mrs. Candour.................................................... Brigit Wilson
Sir Peter Teazle.................................................. Geraint Wyn Davies
Sir Oliver Surface.............................................. Joseph Ziegler
Gentleman #1.................................................... Tim Ziegler

Artistic Credits

Director............................................................. Antoni Cimolino
Designer............................................................ Julie Fox
Lighting Designer.............................................. Michael Walton
Composer.......................................................... Berthold Carrière
Projection Designer........................................... Nick Bottomley
Sound Designer................................................. Thomas Ryder Payne
Fight Director.................................................... John Stead
Producer............................................................ David Auster
Casting Director................................................ Beth Russell
Creative Planning Director................................ Jason Miller
Assistant Director.............................................. Peter Pasyk
Assistant Set Designer...................................... Joshua Quinlan
Assistant Costume Designer............................. Mary-Jo Carter Dodd
Assistant Lighting Designer.............................. C.J. Astronomo
Associate Fight Director................................... Anita Nittoly
Stage Manager................................................... Anne Murphy
Assistant Stage Managers................................. Katherine Arcus, Corinne Richards
Apprentice Stage Manager................................ Hilary Nichol
Production Assistant......................................... Madison Kalbhenn
Production Stage Managers.............................. Julie Miles, Marylu Moyer, Anne Murphy
Technical Director............................................. Elissa Horscroft


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