Stratford Festival 2017

Tartuffe is not the star in this Stratford revival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Tartuffe :Tom Rooney, Orgon: Graham Abbey
Photo: Lynda Churilla

STRATFORD, Ont. —   Let’s get down to the basics. The Stratford Festival’s new production of Moliere’s Tartuffe has company mainstay Graham Abbey delivering one of the best comic performances in  this  venerable theatre’s history. And no, he’s not playing the title character — he’s not the oily religious hypocrite and con-artist who ingratiates himself into a wealthy Parisian household and causes mayhem.

On the contrary, Abbey has the role of Orgon, the gullible head of the household and a man bewitched by Tartuffe’s bogus odour of sanctity. (more…)

Stratford’s Breathing Hole is one for the memory books.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

The Breathing Hole - On The Run 2017

Photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ontario — Our first encounter with the mythic polar bear dominating the Stratford Festival’s stunning production of The Breathing Hole comes at the very beginning when a widowed Inuit woman takes an orphaned one-eared cub into her care.

Our last sighting of of Angu’juaq — for that is the name bestowed on this creature — comes 500 years later, and the moment is heartbreaking.

By the end of the evening, we’re aware that Colleen Murphy’s remarkable play is making an ecological statement. But unlike The Madwoman Of Chaillot, another late-season Stratford offering with the environment on its mind, it radiates genuine heart when it comes to environmental matters. The self-congratulatory aren’t-we-being-clever flavour of Jean Giradoux’s satirical fantasy has no place in the sensibility of The Breathing Hole. It is an intensely human play tinged at the end with a melancholy that is palpable.

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Stratford tries to make a revival of Madwoman Of Chaillot take flight

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

The Madwoman of Chaillot - On The Run 2017

Seana McKenna as the Madwoman. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. — The stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre has become a fantasy place — of colourful jugglers, exultant wordplay and somersaulting paradoxes, of imaginary dogs, lifeguards who can’t swim, cops with a weakness for cribbage — and a madwoman who isn’t mad.

Seana McKenna, who has the title role in the Stratford Festival’s new production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, gives us a character who confidently exists in her own reality — or is it her own unreality?

The flamboyant costumes designed for her by Teresa Przbylski certainly reflect a certain dotty elegance, but it is ultimately McKenna herself who really brings this quality into topsy-turvy focus with her performance as Aurelie, the Madwoman of Chaillot.

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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

virginindex

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…)

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…)

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…)

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