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.

The Shaw Festival’s Dancing At Lughnasa offers outstanding acting

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo. David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — There’s Fiona Byrne, poignantly convincing as Kate, the oldest of the sisters and a bundle of laced-in repression. She’s a school teacher, painfully aware of being the only real wage-earner of the household at a time of gathering economic travail, devout in her Roman Catholic faith, and fiercely devoted in her own humourless way to her family.

There is Serena Parmar, a mixture of resilience and vulnerability as Chris, the youngest of the sisters. She’s the mother of seven-year-old Michael and unemployed — her life on hold because of Michael’s vagabond father, Gerry, who is more absent than present in their lives.

And then we have two particularly close sisters  who earn a bit of money by knitting gloves at home and selling them: the quiet and reflective Agnes, whose silences, in Claire Jullien’s intricately embroidered performance, tell their own tale. Agnes in her own way is the chief carer for Rose, the sister who has never really grown up: she’s portrayed by Diana Donnelly with a joyous, child-like innocence that also leaves you aware of her emotional fragility.

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The Shaw Festival delivers a riotous Androcles and the Lion.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — The other night Tom Pidgeon, the Ottawa Little Theatre’s longtime technical director, made a memorable contribution to the Shaw Festival’s riotous production of Androcles And The Lion.

He ended up on the stage of the venerable Court House Theatre — playing the lion.

Pidgeon happened to be in the audience that evening, and had been plucked from its midst, equipped with a scrofulous wig and bedraggled tail, and assigned the task of delivering assorted roars, growls and moans until actor Patrick Galligan, in the role of the kindly Christian tailor, Androcles, removed a painful thorn from the creature’s paw.

The motley magnificence of Pidgeon’s effort earned an appreciative burst of applause before he was allowed to return to his seat and become a member of the audience again. But not an invisible member of that audience — no one in the house really was.

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Classic Theatre Festival delivers a worthy Candida

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Candida. Photo Jean-Denis LaBelle

Candida By George Bernard Shaw, A Perth Classic Theatre Festival production directed by Laurel Smith

PERTH, Ontario — One of the pleasures of an Ottawa Valley summer is Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival, which has an impressive track record for mounting quality fare.

Its current production of Candida, Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play about turmoil within the household of an Anglican vicar, is no exception.

On the surface, this may seem no more than a comedy about the unsettling impact of a romantic young poet named Eugene Marchbanks when he enters the lives of James Morell, a cleric whose Socialist convictions and gift for rhetoric have won him public prominence, and Morell’s beguiling wife, Candida. But Laurel Smith’s discerning production finds deeper currents in the central situation — which involves the youthful Eugene’s infatuation with Candida, an infatuation so intense and so openly critical of Morell that it leaves the latter increasingly insecure about her love.

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The Virgin Trial :Kate Hennig’s latest Tudor thriller is superior to the production it gets at Stratford.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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The Virgin Trial. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. — Tudor England in all its drama and turbulence continues to attract a huge following in today’s popular culture. From the reign of King Henry Vlll through to the Gloriana days of Elizabeth 1, we’ve had an unending cycle of popular and academic history, best-selling fiction, movies, television series and stage plays.

It’s inevitable that we often get more mythology than history and that the speculative often vies with the factual for our attention. Purists may harrumph about this — will we, for example, ever know for certain the truth about Elizabeth’s virginity? But can we deny that, even centuries afterwards, Tudor times remain urgently, irresistibly alive to us?

Part of the explanation must surely lie in the fact that we’re dealing with formidable personalities. A couple of years ago, dramatist Kate Hennig showed her awareness of this in her debut play, The Last Wife, which received a sterling production last season at Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company. It focussed on Catherine Parr, Henry Vlll’s last Queen and a lady who — given the history of her predecessors — showed an impressive capacity for survival. Hennig’s evocation of the dying days of a tyrant’s reign was aflame with dramatic tension, but it was the play’s status as a richly realized character piece that gave it the momentum it needed. And it compelled us to give our full attention to the complex personalities of the key players — not just Henry and Catherine, but also Henry’s two very bright but psychologically different daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as that shady but charming opportunist Thomas Seymour who would marry the widowed Catherine and also pursue some kind of relationship with the young Elizabeth, a relationship whose very nature has kept us guessing for centuries.

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Stratford’s The Changeling: More Fizzle Than Sizzle

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

STRATFORD, Ont. — The Stratford Festival’s new production of The Changeling starts revealing its fault lines almost immediately.

On the one hand, we have the always dependable Mike Nadajewski, revelling in the small but important role of that sardonic whistle-blower, Jasperino, and delivering the play’s 17th Century dialogue with naturalistic ease. (more…)

Perth Festival delivers a solid revival of Same Time Next Year

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Classic Theatre Festival, Perth

Bernard Slade’s endearing comedy-drama, Same Time Next Year, is now 42 years old — and yes it is a period piece. Yet, nothing seems dated about it, especially when it gets the kind of superior revival that has just opened at the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth.

It can’t be moved to the present. We must accept it on as own terms, as belonging to a particular passage of time — a quarter century of change and turbulence both in North American society and the wider world. It is a period inextricably linked to the lives of New Jersey accountant George and Oakland housewife Doris, both married with children,  who meet in a Northern California Inn in 1951, have a one-night fling that is totally out of character for both of them, but are nevertheless attracted sufficiently to each other that they agree to meet in the same place once a year. (more…)

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…)

Past Reviews