Capital Critics' Circle
Le cercle des critiques de la capitale

Reviewing Theatre in Canada's Capital Region
La critique théâtrale de la région Ottawa-Gatineau

The Charity That Began at Home: A Forgotten Edwardian Comedy That is a Sheer Delight

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Shaw Festival 2014  

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Martin Happer as Hugh Verreker and Julia Course as Margery in The Charity that Began at Home. Photo by David Cooper. .

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — One of the happiest aspects of a Shaw Festival summer is an encounter with its latest archaeological discovery.

The people who run this internationally celebrated theatre are serious about its central mandate — to explore the world of Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. And that, happily, has led to the rediscovery of neglected dramatists from the past.

When the festival launched a cycle of remarkable plays by Harley Granville Barker, it enjoyed some of the biggest triumphs of its 50-year history. But in the case of the forgotten St. John Hankin, it was rescuing a superb dramatist from an even deeper obscurity.

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Stratford Unveils A Provocative New Take On Shakespeare’s Dream Play as Chamber Theatre.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada  

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Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Chamber Play. Photo: Michael Cooper. 

STRATFORD — Forty years ago, a movie called Earthquake arrived in cinemas, its impact heightened by a new system called Sensurround. The aim was to give audience members a truly shuddering experience — not just earth tremors but as close to the equivalent of a full-fledged quake as possible. So if you were an audience member, you felt as though both you and the auditorium were in danger of being shaken to bits.

Indeed, the legendary Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard started losing pieces of ceiling plaster when Earthquake opened there. And in Chicago, alarmed city authorities imposed severe restrictions on the use of Sensurround in its movie houses.

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Mother Courage: Stratford’s Seana McKenna offers a tough and memorable performance.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada  

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Seana McKenna as Mother Courage. Carmen Grant as Kattrin. Photo. David Hou 

STRATFORD, Ont. — The image is unforgettable — this drab, middle-aged, grey-haired mother trudging endlessly through her chosen landscape of war and misery and dubious fiscal opportunity, hauling her battered peddler’s wagon behind her, her only concern the survival of herself and her grown children.
Watching a production of Brecht’s Mother Courage And Her Children, you can’t easily label the play’s title character as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Well, perhaps you can in those productions where the play is allowed to turn soppy and sentimental and tug on our emotions — an approach that infuriated playwright Bertolt Brecht but one that still tempts directors disdainful of his alienation theories.
History tells us that when Mother Courage premiered in Zurich some 70 years ago, some critics approvingly commented on the maternal qualities of its central character. Brecht’s enraged response was to rewrite the play to make her even harsher. Heaven help any treatment that allows her to enlist our sympathies.
But of course, she does — regardless of what Brecht might have wanted. However callous she may seem to an outside world, she still has an inner life, and in any good performance, we’re going to be conscious of it.
In the Stratford Festival’s astonishing new production, we’re riveted by the scene in which Seana McKenna’s Mother Courage is forced to gaze down on the corpse of her son, Swiss Cheese, and deny any knowledge of him. She has no other course if she is to avoid arrest and death herself at the hands of the military thugs who killed him. So, without a visible tremor of emotion, she gives her answer — no, she does not know him.

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Jamie Portman at the Stratford Festival: Stratford Mounts a Harrowing King Lear.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Stratford 2014  

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Calme Fiore as King Lear. Photo: David Hou.

STRATFORD, Ont. — It’s one of the most horrendous scenes in dramatic literature — perhaps the most appalling Shakespeare ever wrote.

So if you know King Lear, you know you have to brace yourself for the sequence where those who have become his adversaries blind the Earl of Gloucester.

The Stratford Festival’s new production is merciless when the moment arrives. As the horror proceeds, it’s as though the participants are seized by an uncontrollable frenzy. There’s a whimpering Scott Wentworth as the wounded Gloucester who, having already lost one eye, is crawling pathetically away from his tormenters. And there’s the excellent Mike Shara, a demonically driven Duke of Cornwall, pouncing on him to complete the job.   Meanwhile, looking on, we have Liisa Repo-Martell’s Regan whose fascinated revulsion seems fixed in amber.

In Antoni Cimolino’s production, the scene has an emotional intimacy that makes what’s happening all the more unsettling. These are people who have known each other in better, more settled lives. But a vicious canker has taken over their world. What unleashed its poison?
The answer, of course, is found at the very beginning of the play when Colm Feore’s aging Lear totters onto the Festival Theatre stage and proceeds to open the gates of hell with his cockeyed plan to portion his kingdom among daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Gaunt, wispy-bearded, voice sometimes quavering, his body language at times uncertain, this Lear may seem a relic, but his vanity and sense of entitlement still burn within him, even though even his aura of decisiveness soon reveals itself as an old man’s terrible foolishness.

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Shaw Festival with the Friends of English Theatre…

Reviewed by on    Arts News, Professional Theatre, Shaw Festival 2014  

Enjoy a THEATRE GETAWAY with

FRIENDS OF ENGLISH THEATRE

SHAW FESTIVAL

July 4 – 6, 2014

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Arms and the Man. Photo by Emily Cooper. 

For reviews of the plays see http://capitalcriticscircle.com/reports-from-the-shaw-festival-the-2013-season-opens-with-a-winning-production-of-arms-and-the-man/#more-5107  (Jamie Portman reviews Arms and the Man)

http://capitalcriticscircle.com/the-charity-that-began-at-home-a-forgotten-edwardian-comedy-that-is-a-sheer-delight/#more-5115  (Jamie Portman reviews The Charity That Began at Home) 

http://capitalcriticscircle.com/cabaret-at-the-shaw-festival-director-peter-hinton-goes-the-phantasmagoric-route-for-world-that-emerges-from-the-dying-embers-of-the-weimar-republic/#more-5131  (Jamie Portman reviews Cabaret)

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Cabaret at the Shaw Festival: Director Peter Hinton Goes the Phantasmagoric Route For a World that Emerges From the Dying Embers of the Weimar Republic.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada   ,

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Juan Chioran as the Emcee. Photo by David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — You can’t be entirely sure what is happening in the final sombre moments of the Shaw Festival’s production of Cabaret. Indeed, there’s the suggestion that Cliff Bradshaw — the expatriate young American who has come to pursue a writing career in Berlin amidst the dying embers of the Weimar Republic and the rising tide of Nazi Germany — won’t make it home safely. After all, we last see him engulfed in the hellish inferno of designer Michael Gianfrancesco’s skeletal set.

The latter, looking like something lifted out of a Fritz Lang film, is an ominously ambiguous concoction of steps and scaffolding, of blinking lights and yawning voids. It can morph into the infamous Kit-Kat Club — although it’s not really the Kit-Kat Club we have known in previous treatments of this classic musical — or it become Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house — although again it’s doesn’t seem quite right because there’s something fragmented, even intangible, about the way its overlapping worlds are presented to us.

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Jamie Portman Reviews Stratford’s King John: Fascinating Performances Despite a Show Lacking Cohesion

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Stratford 2014  

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PHoto. David Hou

STRATFORD — There’s no denying that Tom McCamus is delivering a fascinating portrayal of “something” at the Stratford Festival this summer.
Yet, it’s easy to be left with the feeling that it makes little sense, that this seasoned actor is resorting to a mere grab bag of emotions and mannerisms. But yet again, perhaps that’s all to the good.
After all McCamus is playing King John — or rather doing riffs on Shakespeare’s take on one of the more dubious monarchs to rule England. So if John emerges as something of a mess in McCamus’s interpretation, so be it. That’s one way of salvaging a character that often seems to lack definition in Shakespeare’s actual text.

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Shaw Festival’s production of Arms and the Man: The 2014 Season Opens with a Winner

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Shaw Festival 2014  

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Kate Besworth as Raine Petkoff. Photo by  Emily Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —The Shaw Festival’s latest production of Arms And The Man is definitely pint-sized — a shorter version with at least 30 minutes of its normal running time chopped out.

Purists, who relish the play’s philosophical musings about the absurdities of militarism and the follies of romantic illusion, may well take offence at being short-changed in this way — seeing the 2014 season’s opening show less as an act of streamlining than as an act of dumbing-down: in other words, let’s just laugh and enjoy the liveliness of character and situation — but for heaven’s sake, let’s not be forced to think too hard about what’s really on playwright Bernard Shaw’s mind.

But let’s keep things in perspective. The Shaw Festival may be the only organization in the world dedicated to the theatre of Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, but it’s never been the kind of sacred shrine that treats the master’s works like holy writ. There’s also an important place at Niagara for exploration and experimentation — witness the audacity with which it has revisited Saint Joan over the years — and that’s one of the happiest aspects of the festival’s mandate.

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Perth Classic Theatre’s Dial M for Murder is an absorbing and well paced drama.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

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Photo. Jean-Denis Labelle  with Greg Campbell and Richard Gélinas

The key assumptions in Dial M for Murder are that planning the perfect murder takes time and that something is almost certain to go awry, no matter how meticulous and detailed the plan.

Frederick Knott’s 1952 murder mystery — more a will-he-get-away-with-it than a whodunit — is most familiar as the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland.

As directed by Laurel Smith, the Classic Theatre Festival production of Dial M for Murder now playing in Perth, is absorbing and well paced and David Magladry’s well-appointed set is both workable and in tune with the period.

Knott’s carefully crafted thriller is part straightforward storytelling (so somewhat heavy on exposition) and part study of a psychopath. Former tennis pro Tony Wendice, played with style by Greg Campbell, is all surface charm and the ability to talk his way out of tight corners, while being devoid of conscience and secure in his sense of entitlement.

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Stratford Misfires with Noel Coward’s Hay Fever: reviewed by Jamie Portman.

Reviewed by on    Stratford 2014, Summer theatre 2014  

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Photo. Cylla Von Tiedemann

STRATFORD — You find yourself worrying about the Stratford Festival’s bungled revival of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever even before the performance begins.

‘That’s because a glance at the printed program notes reveals that director Alisa Palmer, a Shaw Festival veteran who really ought to know better, has decided to impose some kind of trendy feminist agenda on Coward’s 1925 comedy. Hence, among other things, Hay Fever actually deals with a mother-daughter power struggle: Coward’s memorable creation, veteran actress Judith Bliss, is suffering a mid-life identity crisis, while daughter Sorel is merely doing what a young woman must do, which is to break free of her family and become independent.

Or so Palmer claims.

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