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

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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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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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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