The Mouse Trap. The Longest-Running play in the English-Speaking World Gets an Attractive Production

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Maria Vartanova

The most fascinating aspect of the world’s longest-running play is its amazing longevity. Now in its 62nd year in London’s West End, The Mousetrap has become as much part of the “must-see” list of attractions for tourists as the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace.

It is generally agreed that Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, while carefully constructed with clever twists and the occasional red herring, creaks a little after all this time. Characters tend to be stereotypes and the script often seems wordy and built around a formula. Thus, the starting point for The Mousetrap is to have a small group of strangers, one of them the murderer, trapped — in this case, in a guesthouse in a snowstorm.

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The Importance Of Being Earnest. A cringe-inducing production that is trivial and insulting!

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: Andrée Lanthier

The National Arts Centre’s English theatre division has proudly unveiled its 2014-15 acting ensemble — and one can only feel embarrassed.

The rationale for a permanent acting company is a sound one. It’s to elevate the play-going experience by assembling a gifted team of artists versatile enough to tackle all types of theatre with confidence and understanding. Possibly the prime example in Canada exists at the Shaw Festival where its company has been hailed as the best in the western hemisphere.

That said, any acting company worth its salt should be able to meet the demands of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, a staple of the basic repertoire. Unfortunately, the NAC’s much vaunted new ensemble fails the test lamentably.

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The Importance of Being Earnest: The audience is repeatedly beaten with slapstick humour.

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Photo: Andree Lanthier

Photo: Andree Lanthier

Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, is a biting satire of Victorian artifice. You wouldn’t think a play criticizing a society where appearance trumps substance, so close to our own image-obsessed society, would require too much tweaking. What makes this play so funny, other than Wilde’s mastery of language, is precisely that it works within the social conventions of late Victorian London. The play works best when the characters let their actions speak for themselves, without added trappings. I talk a lot about directors’ seeming lack of faith in their audience’s ability to get and be amused by a more subtle type of comedy. It often feels like there’s a fear that, unless we’re repeatedly beaten with slapstick-type humour (with side-winks, just in case we forget to laugh), we will fall asleep in our seats. Ted Dykstra’s version of The Importance of Being Earnest falls into this category, as he inserts needless physicality and self-reflexiveness in the presentation. This denies the play its gravitas by reducing it to something trivial and renders the production forgettable.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a story about two friends, Algernon (Alex McCooeye) and his friend Jack (Christopher Morris) who, having little else to do in their privileged lives, make up imaginary friends and relations in order to get away from real-life ones, who they can’t stand. The characters in this version of The Importance of Being Earnest roll their eyes, throw muffins at each other, and, most inappropriate of all, hide under the skirts of their beloveds in the presence of the latter’s (very proper) mother. They leap over settees and foot stools in a way that would have undoubtedly gotten them thrown into Bedlam in a second.  (more…)

The Importance of Being Earnest: Physicality limits the actors and the plays subtlety vanishes

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Published on: October 26, 2014 for the Ottawa Citizen.

Natasha Greenblatt and Alex McCooeye star in The Importance of Being Earnest at the NAC.

Natasha Greenblatt and Alex McCooeye star in The Importance of Being Earnest at the NAC. Photo: Andree Lanthier

A food fight. A dogpile. People treating an elegant sofa with all the respect of Tom Cruise. Is it a play mounted in the living room by your children and their young pals? No, it’s Oscar’s Wilde’s sophisticated gem The Importance of Being Earnest under the direction of Ted Dykstra and starring NAC English Theatre’s possibly embarrassed 2014-15 Ensemble.

Seeking a fresh take on a much-seen play, Dykstra has turned to farcical physicality to illustrate Wilde’s pricking of superficiality, social conventions and other Victorian foibles. Problem is, that physicality, especially the near-slapstick variety often employed here, is meant to underscore the surface existence that is one of Wilde’s bugbears but instead draws so much attention to itself and so limits the actors that the playwright’s intentions and subtlety vanish in the shuffle.

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The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame at the Gladstone. A clever comic ride!

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Relax, theatre practitioners: the Hunchinson family is zero threat to your collective livelihood. As we discover early in this clown-based show by Brooklyn/San Francisco-based Under the Table theatre, the trio of Hunchinson siblings is attempting to mount a stage play based on Victor Hugo’s melodramatic and therefore ripe-for-the-pillorying story The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Fortunately for you practitioners and for us audience members who love a good laugh, the clan is as inept as it is dysfunctional.

All of which makes The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame at once absurd, funny and oddly endearing.

Paul Hunchinson (Josh Matthews) is the writer-cum-director of the play-within-a-play who gives his director’s notes using free-form dance moves (theatre itself is just one of the many targets here). When not battling with his un-cooperative brother and sister, he plays the priest in Hugo’s story.

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Importance of Being Earnest at the NAC. Dykstra fails to Respect Wilde.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo: Andree Lanthier

Alert for Ted Dykstra: The Importance of Being Earnest is a social satire. It is NOT a farce. One of the key aspects of Oscar Wilde’s brilliant comedy is that it appears to observe the social niceties while subtly undercutting them.

Therefore, bun fights are more than wildly inappropriate. Having the two male leads throwing muffins across the stage at each other violates the playwright’s intent.

It is also completely out of place to have Miss Prism, the spinster governess, fondling the spout of a watering can in pseudo-sexual titillation, while panting after the bachelor vicar. Certainly, Wilde suggests that she longs to be married and he is the nearest eligible bachelor. But in the context of Earnest, they will always behave with complete propriety.

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The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame Misses the Mark

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Photo by Under the Table

Photo by Under the Table

The idea of a play within a play, like Under the Table’s The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame, is not a new concept. Neither is the concept of artistic awkwardness in order to make a point. Indeed, we see this latter technique in almost every commercial these days. All this to say that, in order for these elements to work well and seem fresh, they really have to come together in a natural and artistic way. Under the Table’s performance of The Hunchback’s of Notre Dame missed the mark. Instead of being funny and provocative, it ended up just being awkward and tiring, despite the three actors’ abilities, which were considerable.

The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame, created and performed by Matt Chapman, Josh Matthews, and Sarah Petersiel is the story of the Hunchinson Family Players, a theatre troupe of hunchbacked siblings trying to make it big with their misguided adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. No matter that neither Johann (Matt Chapman) or Hilda (Sarah Petersiel) can remember the author’s name, or that Johann is more focused on selling merchandise than anything else. Poor Paul’s (Josh Matthews) vision, such as it is, keeps getting crumbling until it finally explodes in an epic way.  (more…)

Fish Eyes and Boys with Cars: Marriage of Dance and Acting Wows Audiences

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Living in a well regulated, multicultural country such as Canada feels about as safe and cozy as it could. This is probably why we rarely stop to think how hard it could be for newcomers, young and old, to adapt to a new environment while still preserving their own culture. The generation gap could not be any deeper than in this kind of reality: while the young want to blend, the older people tend to resist to any, even the smallest change. This is exactly what the multitalented artist, Anita Majumdar, deals with in a fascinating story about the life and struggle of a teenage Indo-Canadian girl who desperately tries to fit into a predominantly white society in Port Moody Senior Secondary in British Columbia.

Fish Eyes is the first part of a trilogy (consisting of Fish Eyes, Boys with Cars and Let Me Borrow That Top). Here, we meet Meena, a high school girl who takes lessons in traditional Indian dance with a teacher she calls Aunty. While preparing for a dance festival in India, Meena shows a very strong resistance to anything that is typical of the country of her origin, culminating in a decision to not participate in the event. The reason: her first love, the not so smart but very popular boy Buddy, is in love with another (blonde) girl. (more…)

The Moustrap: A lack of chemistry between characters makes the show fall flat

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Photo: Maria Vartanova

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie is one of the longest running plays. It is based on a short story (published only in the short stories collection “Three Blind Mice”), which was inspired by the real-life case of the death of a boy, Dennis O’Neill who died in 1945, while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife.

Like all Christie’s work, The Mousetrap has her signature all over it: unexpected twist and turns, a surprising choice of murderer and a full pallet of very realistic characters. The play is a typical ‘who done it’ mystery. It is set in the early 1950s, in the isolated Monkswell Manor run by the young, recently married couple Giles and Molly Ralston. The play takes place on a winter day with heavy snowfall, so that the isolation of the house is highlighted. At the time of the murder in the manor, all five guests have already arrived and settled quite comfortably, as well as a detective who came to investigate a murder committed the previous night in London. When one of the guests is killed, the detective starts interrogating the rest of the people. Anyone can be the guilty party and it is obvious that everybody is trying to hide something from the past.

There is a reoccurring sentence in Agatha Christie’s stories – the leitmotif which helps explain her work. As her popular character, Miss Marple often says, there is a lot of human nature in everyone. So really, although she is a mystery writer – her writing revolves around people; it is mostly character studies. In adaptation of her work to a different media (including theatre), there are two important things to remember: stick to the original time and place, and be sure to develop the characters well. (more…)

ONCE at the NAC. A charming love story that would work better in a more intimate setting.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo Joan Marcus.

The opening of a mirrored live bar on stage as a means of bringing down the theatrical fourth wall is a gimmick with limited appeal. Once is certainly enough and has even less appeal during the intermission.

Like the large venue, the crowded pub look hurts rather than helps the intimate tone of what should be a chamber musical.

Having said this, Once still has considerable charm as a love story — or, more accurately, a story about love and commitment. It is harder to convey the ambience in this type of stage setting than it is through the flexibility of film, but there are quiet moments or more gentle songs when the intimate nature of the storyline is front and centre as the two principals Guy (played on opening night by Ryan Link) and Girl (Dani de Waal) try not to talk about falling in love and to remain focused on making music and being true to their responsibilities.

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