Reviewer: Jamie Portman

Jamie Portman
Jamie Portman has distinguished himself as one of the finest theatre critics in the country. He is presently a free lance critic , periodically writing reviews for theatre in Canada and in England for the Capitalcriticscircle and Postmedia-News (formerly CanWest). Jamie makes his home in Kanata.

Director Martha Henry delivers a thoughtful, compelling Twelfth Night at Stratford

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. —  A pair of metallic trees dominate the Festival Theatre stage at the beginning of Twelfth Night. They suggest a world going sterile — a mood not really softened when Brent Carver’s muted Feste sings  to the rueful strains of composer Rena Jacobs’s music. And is there any emotion beyond languor when E.B. Smith’s Duke Orsino speaks those famous lines — “if music be the food of love play on?” (more…)

OLT does itself proud with Norm Foster’s Old Love

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Little Theatre

Of course there’s comedy in Norm Foster’s 2008 play, Old Love, What else should we expect? After all it is a Norm Foster play. But there’s also wisdom and gentleness here — qualities that are abundantly present in Venetia Lawless’s thoughtful and beautifully modulated production for Ottawa Little Theatre.

It’a not quite right to suggest that Old Love is about a 30-year infatuation or even an obsession. Such words cheapen the emotions that the aging Bud has long nursed for Molly, the inaccessible — but, for him, mysteriously enchanting — wife of his boss. (more…)

Stratford’s Guys And Dolls offers a visual and choreographic feast

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. —   When it comes to choreography and visuals, the Stratford Festival’s latest production of Guys And Dolls consistently hits the jackpot.

To be sure the Broadway it offers remains a  place of the imagination: initially the imagination of Damon Runyon, whose short stories about lovable low-lifers provided the impetus for a show that in turn would brilliantly showcase the inventive genius of composer-lyricist Frank Loesser and book writers Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling. (more…)

Stratford delivers a stylish School For Scandal

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photograp: Cylla von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. — “Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.”

So speaks the aptly named Mrs. Candour in the Stratford Festival’s stylish and enjoyable production of  School For Scandal. Brigit Wilson’s engaging portrayal of this good lady may seem all fuss and fluff, with the comedy of her hairpiece furthering our enjoyment of presence here, but she’s also a character who, in her own inimitable way, injects a measure of common sense into the culture of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen comedy about gossip, greed and hypocrisy in 18th Century London. (more…)

Stratford’s Timon of Athens probes a cankered heart

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

STRATFORD, Ont. —  It’s 13 years since Stephen Ouimette took on the hazardous task of directing Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, a play that is a mess both structurally and psychologically.

But Ouimette’s production, which starred the late Peter Donaldson as the Athenian nobleman whose misplaced generosity destroys him and turns him into a raving lunatic, did exert a compelling power. It also, with its modern setting, was an indictment of big business and a ruthless board-room mentality ready to turn on its own kind when expedient. (more…)

Stratford strikes gold with Treasure Island

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

There are times, watching the Stratford Festival’s robust production of Treasure Island, when we might be forgiven for thinking that a lithe-limbed aerial contortionist named named Katelyn McCulloch is the star of the show.

After all, we’re constantly catching our breath as her spandex-clad body does unbelievable things high above the Avon Theatre stage. She’s a chattering tree creature with a penchant for cheese and a suspicion of earth-bound humans — although she is prepared to make an exception for the story’s young hero, Jim Hawkins. (more…)

Stratford’s HM Pinafore is waterlogged by the direction

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

STRATFORD, Ont. — Midway through the Stratford Festival’s production of HMS Pinafore, a character upchucks into a bucket.

Welcome to Gilbert and Sullivan — 2017 style.

The moment is unfunny — and therefore typical of the mindless bits of business that afflict Lezlie Wade’s unfortunate  production. Yet, the tragedy is that there are some good performers on stage. (more…)

Romeo And Juliet a shining triumph at Stratford

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. — By the time we get to the balcony scene, we know just how well the Stratford Festival’s new production of Romeo And Juliet is working.

From the beginning, we’ve sensed that it is firmly on the side of youth — which is exactly as things should be in Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed young lovers. We’ve already seen it in the beautifully executed ballroom scene when Antoine Yared’s Romeo, his simmering romanticism just waiting for release, sets eyes on Sarah Farb’s Juliet, a vivacious 14-year-old primed to yield to the first flickers of adolescent yearning. (more…)

The Shaw Festival opens with an outstanding Saint Joan

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Critic Kenneth Tynan once observed that Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan was the first work to show the beginnings of the playwright’s senility.

Tynan reveled in this kind of attention-grabbing judgment. But on this occasion, it could also be seen as a diversionary tactic to quell the discomfort Tynan himself might well be feeling over the readiness of Shaw to take a serious look at matters spiritual in this play. And Tynan — like Shaw, a non-believer — ultimately did yield to its strange power. After hammering the play and dismissing Joan of Arc as “a divinely illuminated simpleton,” Tynan went on to confess that he was moved to tears by the conclusion of the performance he was reviewing. (more…)

The Shaw Festival ventures into Canadian history with 1837

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —  There’s a certain fascination in the experience of sitting in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic Court House and watching an adroit company of Shaw Festival actors relive events that actually happened in the vicinity 180 years ago.

But it was also intriguing to note the scowls on the faces of some board heavyweights the other afternoon when 1837: The Farmers Revolt landed firmly — even defiantly — on the Court House Theatre stage. This festival constitutes a curious anomaly in the theatrical world: The playwright who gave the festival its name was an unrepentant Socialist, yet its destiny rests in the hands of a board of impeccable Establishment credentials. (more…)

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