Stratford Festival

Ferocious comic relief and dangerous despair all emerge in Deborah Hay’s brilliant portrayal of Katherina inThe Taming of the Shrew.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou.

STRATFORD, Ont. — For modern-day audiences, the most contentious moments in The Taming Of The Shrew come at the end.

That’s when Katherina, the fiery and rebellious spouse of the swaggering Petruchio, finally appears to be yielding to her husband’s god-given authority.

By this time, she has been dragged kicking and screaming into marriage. She has then been subjected to emotional humiliation, to starvation, to sleep deprivation by her new spouse — and doesn’t all this remind us of the classic interrogation techniques practised by today’s CIA?

Defenders of Petruchio may argue that he’s merely imposing tough love on a young woman whose out-of-bounds behaviour, furious temper and tendency towards violence have earned her the label of “Katherina the cursed” — that his determination to reduce her to a state of total submission is “done in reverend care of her.” But is it really that simple? Not by a long shot when it comes to the Stratford Festival’s astonishing new production.


Friends of English Theatre (FET) Prepare another trip to Stratford

News from Capital Critics Circle


Photo: David Hou.  Oedipus Rex



NO DRIVING!  CHOOSE YOUR PLAYS! See Jamie Portman’s reviews of the shows on our site.

What’s on at the Stratford Festival during  FET days:

The Taming of the Shrew

Love’s Labour’s Lost

The Adventures of Pericles

The Sound of Music


The Diary of Anne Frank

She Stoops to Conquer

The Alchemist

The Physicists


Stratford’s She Stoops To Conquer Has Its Moments

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

stoops1297709031184_ORIGINAL Courtesy of the Stratford Festival

STRATFORD, Ont. — There’s genuine pleasure in watching two veteran
Canadian actors successfully mining the humor of Oliver Goldsmith’s
classic comedy, She Stoops To Conquer.
So when the curtain rises at the Stratford Festival’s Avon Theatre to
reveal Joseph Ziegler and Lucy Peacock in warm and witty conversation,
their world of comfortable privilege further defined by Douglas
Paraschuk’s amusing country-mansion setting, you feel that you’re in
safe hands.


Stratford’s Latest Hamlet Is a Triumph

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou

Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, ONT. — We’ve arrived at one of the many great moments in Hamlet. It’s also an opportunity for us to take further measure of how actor Jonathan Goad is doing.

And now, we encounter a man possessed.

The playgoer always awaits this particular soliloquy with anticipation because it’s so important in defining the kind of Hamlet we’re experiencing. Goad, who has the title role in the Stratford Festival’s sterling new production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, doesn’t disappoint. His explosion of rage and anguish sweeps through the theatre like a flame.

But there’s more than anger here. There’s something unnerving about the way this turbulent prince inveighs against the “remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless” villainy of the uncle who has murdered his father and married his mother. If he could smash the Festival Theatre stage apart with his fists, he probably would. (more…)

Reviews from Stratford 2015: Deborah Hay is one of the best things about “The Adventures of Pericles”.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, Ont. — There’s a moment in the Stratford Festival’s new production of Shakespeare’s seldom-performed Pericles when actress Deborah Hay blows out the candles on a cake.

It’s a simple moment, but Hay — in the role of Thaisa, the young woman who becomes the title character’s doomed bride — gives it a softly luminous rapture that speaks volumes.

There’s a later moment when Hay reappears as a young maiden named Marina. Shakespeare’s melodramatic plot has placed her in a brothel where she is in imminent danger of losing her virtue if her keepers have their way. The latter include a gravel-voiced Randy Hughson revelling in his character’s scrofulous awfulness, Brigit Wilson as a flame-wigged madam named Bawd and the always dependable Keith Dinicol as a fastidious fop named Pander. The scene becomes a comic set piece as we watch Hay’s cunning Marina adroitly and amusingly preserve her maidenhood from the increasingly frustrated machinations of this scheming trio.


Reviews from Stratford 2015: Stratford Delivers a Richly Involving Carousel

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, Ont. — In the 70 years since its lustrous Broadway premiere, Carousel has come to be regarded as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘problem’ musical, a show now tarnished by controversy over its attitude towards domestic abuse.

The indictment isn’t really fair, arising as it does from the dark-textured nature of the romance between swaggering carnival barker Billy Bigelow and the sweet and devoted Julie Jordan. To be sure, Billy’s hot temper is at the core of the story, and with it the revelation that he has struck Julie — only once, she insists — after only two months of marriage.

Inflammatory stuff in our 2015 culture — the sort of subject matter that, by its very mention, can trigger a knee-jerk condemnation from those who don’t even know this show.

However, Carousel’s integrity is convincingly reaffirmed in the production that opened last weekend. And in her notes in the printed programme, director Susan Schulman deals forthrightly with charges that the show condones domestic abuse by giving us a Julie whose love is unconditional. There are complex dynamics at work in any personal relationship — complexities certainly present in Carousel, a ground-breaking musical that, through the medium of popular culture, was tackling the problem of spousal abuse decades before it was being taken seriously in the courts.


Reviews from Stratford 2015: Jillian Keiley’s Diary of Anne Frank is sadly misconceived

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou

Let’s give the Stratford Festival the benefit of the doubt and concede that it was motivated by the purest of intentions when it decided to remount The Diary Of Anne Frank this summer. Unfortunately, the treatment that lurched onto the stage of the Avon Theatre Thursday night is wrong-headed and misconceived. It renders a profound disservice to a powerful and affecting story.For this, director Jillian Keiley must be held accountable. It’s on her watch that the evening begins with smiling cast members lined up on stage. They’re there to introduce themselves and the characters they play, to crack a few jokes and offer some more solemn observations on the material they will be performing. It’s all a bit lovey-dovey. It’s also misguided because its chief effect is to remind us that what we’ll be seeing is essentially make-believe theatre — as though we must to be cocooned in advance from the terrible realities inherent in The Diary Of Anne Frank.

So before the play even begins, the “fourth wall” which normally exists between actors and audience is systematically being broken down. Why?   But wait — Keiley is still not ready to allow us into the world of playwright Wendy Kesselman’s text. It’s now time for cast members, led by actor Joseph Ziegler, who will be playing Otto Frank, to invite us to inspect the “home” that designer Bretta Gerecke has concocted for these eight Amsterdam Jews forced into hiding from the Nazis. And again, it all feels wrong.


Reviews from Stratford 2015: Durrenmatt’s “The Physicists” still works

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, Ont. — One thing is clear about the Stratford Festival’s revival of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s morbidly funny Cold War satire, The Physicists. It features a bouquet of outstanding performances. There’s a sly and knowing Graham Abbey, in a foppish display of bewigged and embroidered elegance, picking his way with cat-like tread through the role of an asylum inmate who claims to be Isaac Newton.

Then there’s Mike Nadajewski who cuts his own distinctive figure,courtesy of his rat’s nest mop of hair and the violin on which he keeps playing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. He thinks he’s Albert Einstein.Thirdly, we have the enigmatic figure of one Johann Wilhelm Mobius, a patient who can be reduced to trembling fear at one moment and driven
to murderous rage at the most. He’s the most troubling figure in the play, a man tormented by visions of King Solomon. He’s portrayed by Geraint Wyn Davies in one of the best performances of his career. There is also the smoothly malevolent presence of Fraulein Doktor Mathilde von Zahndm, the humpbacked, fright-wigged psychiatrist who has charge of them. Closer inspection reveals this to be actress Seana
McKenna relishing the opportunity to make like Richard lll. She also invokes James Bond territory, reminding you rather of Rosa Klebb, the lethal villainess of From Russia With Love; indeed all that’s missing are the knife blades springing from the toes of her shoes.


Reviews from Stratford 2015: “The Sound Of Music” Can Still Surprise

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo. Courtesy of the Stratford Festival

STRATFORD, Ont. — Yes, it can have the texture of syrup. Yes, it is
historically questionable when it comes to the allegedly real-life
story it tells. And yes, in the character of Maria, the convent reject
who changes her world and the world of those around her through the power of song, we have a young heroine who is almost too good to be true. Yet, none of this seems to matter when The Sound Of Music receives as good a production as the one that took confident possession of the Stratford’s Festival Theatre Tuesday night. No matter that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved musical continues to be done to death — indeed Stratford’s previous production was comparatively recent. No matter that it’s by no means Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best show — that honor probably belongs to the dark-hued Carousel, which is also  being mounted at the festival this summer. But this production benefits from Donna Feore’s secure and imaginative direction, a strong visual component and some stellar performances.

Feore seems determined to find some fibre in the sugary confection that constitutes this musical. She wants to give the material more spine. American import Stephanie Rothenberg, who plays Maria, proves to be of prime importance in serving this need. On opening night you were a bit uncertain about Rothenberg at the beginning: her mannered and overly studied rendition of the title song lacked spontaneity and didn’t really jell with the image of the idyllic young postulant, stealing a few heady moments of freedom in her beloved mountains before returning to the cloisters.
But by the time Maria arrives at the widowed Captain Von Trapp’s home to take on the job of governess to his seven unruly children, Rothenberg has relaxed and is taking confident possession of her character. And with that delightfully staged moment when the militaristic-minded captain marches the youngsters on stage, and into the hearts of Maria and the audience, the show’s virtues are firmly taking hold.



Hamlet at Prescott: Shakespeare’s Globe at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival

Reviewed by Patrick Langston



If you blinked, then – like Hamlet trying to steel himself to action – you missed your chance.

On Saturday, Prescott’s St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival hosted Globe To Globe, the riveting international touring production of Hamlet by London, England-based Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company. It was in town (and Canada) for two shows only before hitting the road again.

The company is touring Hamlet to every country in the world between now and 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The show also links to the 450th anniversary of the writer’s birth this past April.



Past Reviews