At 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont.

Written by David S. Craig
Directed by David Ferry
Lyrics and original composition by David S. Craig
Musical direction and original composition by Justin Hiscox
Costumes by Karyn McCallum
Set and Props by Glenn Davidson
Choreography by Monica Dottor
Cast: Michael Cox
Colin Doyle
Shaina Silver-Baird
Matt Gilbert
Erin Humphry
Deb Williams
Robert Winslow
And many others.

A deeply moving, emotional look at the fly-boys of WWII, their bravery, their families and how the experience affected them years later. Beautifully written by David S. Craig and directed by David Ferry.

The Story. Peter Benton (Robert Winslow) is 94, from Peterborough. He lives with his daughter Margaret. He sits in a wheelchair and is bitter about so many things mainly about his time in WWII when he was a young pilot on a bomber plane. He won’t tell Margaret anything about that time.

Kate Richie is a young British woman who comes to Canada seeking an interview with Peter. She’s doing her PHD on WWII and Peter is the last of his crew who is still alive. At first he refuses, but then slowly he begins telling her how he enlisted at 18 and was piloting a bomber when he was 20 in England. It was daunting but he did it.

It’s a story of steely resolve, loyalty, carrying for one’s men, being daring but not reckless and growing up fast.

The Production. Director David Ferry creates a production as huge and sprawling in scale as David S. Craig’s script. There is sweep and size in both the play and the production. David Ferry has staged various aerial ‘dog-fights’ as Peter and his crew try to bomb sites over Germany and in the air fighting enemy planes. One in particular is nothing short of gripping. Several ‘fly boys’ hold a large model of a Lancaster (I believe) plane above their heads. Others carry the wings that fit into the body of the plane. They then manoeuvre the plane in choreographed movement above their heads, as twenty-year-old Sgt. Peter “Petey” Benton (Michael Cox) describes the various harrowing aspects of that mission (attacked by the enemy; engines blown out; rocky flying; a severely wounded man on board and Petey would not sacrifice that young man, instead, he risked life and limb to get the wounded young man to the mainland and a hospital.)

As with all the productions at 4th Line Theatre the company of actors is a mix of community actors and professionals mainly from Toronto. The action takes place in and around the barnyard of Winslow Farm, the home of 4th Line Theatre. Characters scurry across the yard and around the barn; action happens on the upper level of the barn, in the field over there; citizens march smartly for a ceremony or other. Monica Dottor has choreographed lively dances for the company. David Ferry keeps the pace going quickly and ensuring that the level of acting, whether professional or not, is of a high standard.

As the elder Peter Benton, Robert Winslow is brusque, irritated and ornery. He is tended with infinite patience but occasionally a touch of frustration by his loyal daughter Margaret, a focused Deb Williams. Michael Cox is a dashing, confident Petey Benton. Colin Doyle plays Danny O’Neil who is that goofy, good-natured, true friend you always want around you. Shaina Silver-Baird plays Emma Ross, Petey’s reticent girlfriend, who is sweet, sassy and fearful of losing him. Erin Humphry plays Kate Richie, the attentive, tenacious PHD student with a secret of her own.

A gripping story of young men and women believing in their country, willing to make the supreme sacrifice.

Comment. David S. Craig got the idea for Bombers: Reaping the Whirlwind from one of his friends who did fight in the war. David Ferry brought his own family history—his parents were caught up in WWII—to the project and the result is a thoughtful, very funny, moving play and production about bravery and friendship. It leaves you with lots to think about and much more to be grateful for.

Produced by 4th Line Theatre.

Began: July 4, 2017.
Closes: July 29, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 min. approx.


At the Amphitheatre in High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tanja Jacobs
Set by Claire Hill
Costumes and props by Victoria Wallace
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Sound by Lyon Smith
Musical Director, Dan Rutzen
Cast: Jenni Burke
Jason Cadieux
Brett Dahl
Diane D’Aquila
Peter Fernandes
Kristiaan Hansen
Richard Lee
Michael Mann
Robert Persichini
Amelia Sargisson
Naomi Wright
Hannah Wayne-Phillips

A delightful, thoughtful production that does not ignore the darker parts of the play.

The Story. Count Orsino is in love with Olivia who ignores him because she’s in mourning for her recently deceased brother. Orsino persists. Into his employ comes a young man named Cesario. In fact it’s really a young woman named Viola who was in a shipwreck and got separated from her twin brother Sebastian and thinks him dead. She hears about Orsino and dresses as a boy to get a job working for him. Orsino asks Cesario to plead his case to Olivia. Olivia in turn becomes smitten with Cesario.

A subplot is Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, a drunken lout, his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who is trying to woo Olivia and Malvolio, Olivia’s imperious major domo of sorts. Sir Toby and company bedevil Malvolio and play tricks on him because they are mean.

The Production. Twelfth Night plays in rep with King Lear. This is the 35th season for Shakespeare in High Park and as such they marked the occasion with cake and popcorn at the opening of King Lear. They also had a bit of extra drama they didn’t need. Robert Persichini, a wonderful actor, who was to play the Fool in King Lear and Malvolio in Twelfth Night, was taken ill and couldn’t do either performance. The director for King Lear, Alistair Newton, read the part of the Fool in costume and make-up. Similarly Tanja Jacobs, the director of Twelfth Night read the part of Malvolio in costume, wig and makeup. I love the whole notion that the show must go on if at all possible. Everybody pulls together and the critics know to have compassion and flexibility in such a situation.

Director Tanja Jacobs has set the play in the Hotel Illyria. This gives the play a sense of a quick pace as hotel staff and guests scurry from one intrigue to another.

Orsino (Richard Lee) is a suave, dashing man in either a bathrobe, track suit, or spiffy duds, moping around the place, hoping for a smile from Olivia. Olivia (Naomi Wright) seems to run the place with efficiency and exasperation at being bothered by Orsino’s entreaties and her uncle’s shenanigans. She is absolutely besotted with Cesario and her whole prim manner changes into a giddy, distracted woman. As Cesario, Amelia Sargisson is that lovely mix of boyish and feminine, because Cesario is really Viola in disguise. Sargisson walks that fine line between both identities and charms and attracts both Orsino and Olivia. As Sir Toby, Jason Cadieux is loud, loutish and always staggering with the effects of drink. He is ably joined by Peter Fernandes as the hapless Sir Andrew. As Fabiana, the hotel beautician, Diane D’Aquila plays her as a cigarette smoking busy-body with a wicked sense of irreverence. As Feste, Jenni Burke is a sassy, flippant Feste who smiles through life making fun of everything. Even reading the part of Malvolio, Tanja Jacobs captures Malvolio’s disdain and humour.

Humour with an edge suffuses Tanja Jacobs’ buoyant production. It’s full of intelligent detail, irreverent wit and the unsettling feeling that often we are laughing at the shenanigans of Sir Toby and company when we should be looking at them with knitted eye-brows. I love being unsettled by work this good.

Comment. The setting in High Park is lovely; the atmosphere is good natured fun. Shakespeare in High Park also attracts the most attentive audiences. I think it’s a good way to become familiar with Shakespeare and his plays and with Twelfth Night you get lots of laughs with plenty of serious things to ponder.

Produced by Canadian Stage.

Opened: July 14, 2017.
Closes: Sept. 3, 2017.
Cast: 12: 7 men, 5 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.


At the Amphitheatre in High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alistair Newton
Set by Claire Hill
Costumes by Carolyn Smith
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Sound by Lyon Smith
Musical Director, Dan Rutzen
Fight Director, Simon Fon
Cast: Jenni Burke
Jason Cadieux
Brett Dahl
Diane D’Aquila
Peter Fernandes
Kristiaan Hansen
Richard Lee
Michael Mann
Robert Persichini
Amelia Sargisson
Naomi Wright
Hannah Wayne-Phillips

A workman-like production with some interesting gender-bending.

The Story. You know the story. King Lear is a lousy parent who divides his kingdom amongst his three daughters, Goneril (the eldest), Regan (the middle daughter) and Cordelia (the youngest). He’s going to spend equal time with each daughter who will take care of him, but he will keep the title and the retinue of about 100 men with dirty boots and bad manners.

But before Lear hands over the land he plays a bit of a game on the daughters by asking them to tell him how much they love him so they get a prized piece of real estate. We know he’s already divided the land equally but he makes his daughters go through hoops.

Goneril and Regan go along with it. Has he done this before, one wonders, and so the two eldest daughters know the game? Cordelia does not play. She loves him like a daughter should and that should be all that is needed. Lear is enraged. Is there any wonder it all ends badly.

The Production. This is the 35th year of doing Shakespeare in High Park. They had cake and popcorn last night at the opening. And a bit of extra drama they didn’t need. Robert Persichini, a wonderful actor, who was to play the Fool was taken ill and couldn’t do the performance. The director Alistair Newton read the part of the Fool in costume and make-up. I love the whole notion that the show must go on if at all possible. Everybody pulls together and the critics know to have compassion and flexibility in such a situation.

Alistair Newton makes some interesting directorial decisions for this production. King Lear is played by Diane D’Aquila who plays King Lear as a woman. I think it works. Lear is a strong character, bold, opinionated and in control. In this context she is impatient when she’s not listened to and that will happen often here. D’Aquila makes King Lear a woman who it’s dangerous to cross. She is imperious, volatile when her authority is challenged, yet gradually ground down when Goneril and Regan get even.

When King Lear first makes her entrance (I’m referring to ‘her’ from now on) she wears a white nightgown and is doddery and seems confused. As she is being dressed by her ‘staff’ in black Elizabethan finery she becomes in control, sharp-minded and anything but doddery. It’s as if the whole idea of being a ruler gives her her edge back.

While I won’t comment on the performance of the Fool, I will say it’s interesting that the Fool (who is played by a man) is dressed as King Lear is, in a black gown, as if they are each other’s alter ego. Interesting touch.

Kent in this case is also depicted as a woman and is played with confidence and assurance by Jenni Burke. Ms Burke is a wonderful surprise. Her forte is musical theatre. I believe this is her first Shakespeare production. She illuminates Kent’s loyalty to King Lear but also her sense of injustice when Lear banishes Cordelia. Kent knows it’s dangerous to challenge Lear, but at her core, Kent is a wise, just woman full of heart. Lovely performance.

Also full of heart is Jason Cadieux as Gloucester. Both Lear and Gloucester are parents who have mistreated and misjudged their children. Both parents endure terrible pain on their way to realizing what they have done and to make amends. Cadieux plays Gloucester initially flippantly, but then more and more concerned as he realizes who he can and can’t trust. Cadieux also instils great heart in his performance as Gloucester.

It’s refreshing to see Cordelia played with such forthright clarity by Amelia Sargisson. She is fearful regarding the game of telling Lear how much she loves her, but this Cordelia also knows the folly of the game and is confident enough to say so. Sargisson’s Cordelia is formidable in battle which gives her a different kind of confidence when she meets Lear again. Sargisson also handles the text with assurance.

Naomi Wright does fine work as Generil, the eldest daughter who bears the brunt of King Lear’s raging wrath. Wright handles the complexities of the language and the character with style and grace.

Comment. I have found that often in these park situations the cast tends to be uneven. While there are many fine actors in this production of King Lear, there are also a few young actors who are not up to the job. I can appreciate that it’s a learning experience, but you hope for a modicum understanding of the play, the style and how to say the words from the actors. It’s also a learning experience for the director.

This is a Canadian Stage production in collaboration with the Department of Theatre in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University. Both Alistair Newton, who is directing King Lear and Tanja Jacobs, who is directing Twelfth Night in High Park, are graduates in the Masters Program in Directing. Newton has a flair for arranging his actors around the stage, although you wish that he could make all his actors/actresses rise to the occasion of the Bard. The cast is strong in many cases and weak in others.

The setting in High Park is lovely; the atmosphere is good natured fun. Shakespeare in High Park also attracts the most attentive audiences. I think it’s a good way to become familiar with Shakespeare and his plays.

Produced by Canadian Stage.

Opened: July 13, 2017.
Closes: Sept. 3, 2017.
Cast: 12: 7 men, 5 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.


At the National Theatre, London, England.

Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Set by Ian MacNeil
Costumes by Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting by Paule Constable
Choreography and movement by Robby Graham
Sound by Ian Dickinson
Puppetry director and movement by Finn Caldwell
Puppet designers, Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes
Illusions by Chris Fisher
Cast: Susan Brown
Andrew Garfield
Denise Gough
Nathan Lane
Amanda Lawrence
James McArdle
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Russell Tovey
Stuart Angell
Laura Caldow
Claire Lambert
Becky Namgauds
Stan West
Lewis Watkins

A blazing play given a dazzling production, that is as timely now as it was 25 years ago.

The Story. When Tony Kushner was 30 years old, for want of something better to do, he wrote Angels in America, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. It is in two parts. Part One is called Millennium Approaches. Part Two is Perestroika (restructuring). Both parts deal with the Aids epidemic in America from 1985. It examines, relationships, loyalty, politics, malicious manipulation, denial, hope, prophecy, marriage, commitment, truth, health, love and forgiveness.

Part One: Millennium Approaches. Prior Walter and Louis Ironson are a couple. Prior is sick with Aids and Louis is full of despair about the possible loss of his partner. He is also a rather weak man who cannot bear to stay and help Prior and leaves him.

Louis works as a clerk in the Justice Department. He is discovered in the bathroom, sobbing, by Joseph Pitt, an upright, righteous lawyer who works for the Justice Department. Joseph is a Mormon, married to Harper Pitt which is fragile-minded and takes pills. The marriage is in trouble. Joseph’s mentor is Roy M Cohn, a combative, vindictive lawyer (Note: Cohn was the mentor of Donald J. Trump, make of that what you will).

Joseph realizes he is gay but of course can’t bring himself to admit it. He begins a relationship with Louis. Roy Cohn is also suffering from Aids because he’s gay but will sue anyone who says it. Cohn says that he’s a heterosexual man who sleeps with other men. He does not have Aids. He has liver cancer.

While he is in various hospitals and trying to stay alive, Prior imagines he is hearing a winged angel coming to help. The Angel appears at the end of the Act.

Part Two: Perestroika

The Angel calls Prior the Prophet. He is confused and frightened. For all the talk of The Angel, it cannot really help Prior. Roy Cohn is also in the hospital and everyone knows it’s for Aids. He is tended by Belize, a smart-mouthed, carrying nurse who is a friend of Prior’s. No matter his personal feelings about Cohn, Belize tends to Cohn with compassion and honesty. Through bullying, threats and nefarious means, Cohn purloins a huge personal supply of an experimental drug that can help him. (AZT). With equal cunning Belize negotiates some of the vials from Cohn’s stash for Prior, among others.

Relationships become clear and honest in Perestroika. Cohn is dying. He is visited by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg for whose death Cohn was responsible. Prior is saved by the drugs. Harper, fragile though she is, throws Joseph out. Joseph and Louis begin to live together.

The Production. Director Marianne Elliott has created a production of breath-taking scope and yet intimacy. She has such a vision for her productions that always serve the play, yet there is such a particular kind of vocabulary to her direction that you can always tell it’s hers.

Millennium Approaches is a clean, straightforward, yet stylish telling of the story. Ian MacNeil’s sets are ultra-cool and modern. They move on and off silently, efficiently, and are spare. Modules create rooms. They often rise up from trap doors. Edges of the structures are illuminated in Paule Constable’s neon lighting. Her lighting is also distinctive (witness her work on War Horse for example).

Above the set for both parts is a structure that looks like a space-ship of sorts. Not sure what that is. Impressive though.The appearance of The Angel is startling. We hear the flapping of the wings and an echoed voice declaring it is coming. Prior—a wonderful, loose-limbed, frightened, very funny, tenacious Andrew Garfield—is terrified at what is happening but curious. With an explosion of light, there is a sprightly, almost tiny, Amanda Lawrence in white fright wig and a body stocking of shades of grey, held aloft on the shoulders of ‘creatures’, also in grey body-stockings. The creatures are called Angel Shadows. They carry The Angel through the air. The wings are huge and are held and manipulated by two Angel Shadows one on either side of The Angel. The wings are not attached to her body. They separate. The image of this Angel is breath-taking. End of Part One. Whew.

The tone, look and feel of Part Two: Perestroika is different. Now all the scenes and set pieces are changed by the scurrying, spooky Angel Shadows. They are like animals on all fours, in the shadows, lurking. Even the changes of the set are choreographed. An Angel Shadow takes a lamp by holding it and twirling off stage. The set pieces, rooms etc. are now pushed around by the scurrying Angel Shadows. We seem them squatting still in the gloom, ready to move. It’s all done silently, but there is that heightened emotion and foreboding about the whole thing.

Relationships are now set. Cohn is writhing in pain. Ethel sits watching him, smiling. Prior has hallucinations. He sees visions of his ancestors. He also comes to the reality that he is better off without Louis.

The acting from top to bottom is superb. As Roy Cohn, Nathan Lane proves once again that he is not ‘just a brilliant comedian.’ He is fury, bullying, relentless evil. And yet, he earns our compassion. As Harper Pitt, Denise Gough is worn down with insecurity, pills, uncertainty about her husband, and lost. As Louis, James McArdle is a torrent of language, ideas, philosophy, blather and baloney. He is a weak man who leaves his lover, and yet, again, we have compassion. Belize is all sass and sashay when played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. As Joseph Pitt, Russell Tovey is a clean-cut, totally insecure man who is gay and absolutely can’t admit it. This is a wonderful, nuanced actor. Susan Brown plays a patient, smiling Ethel Rosenberg, a wise rabbi, a carrying mother in Hannah Pitt, and a Russian philosopher, wonderfully.

Comment. Tony Kushner’s play is loaded with poetry, esoteric philosophy, a brilliant political mind and a dazzling imagination. The themes of Angels in America are many, various and eye-popping. But at its centre is a play about love and relationships, friendships that are strong. And the play is bursting with compassion. Roy Cohn is just the embodiment of evil, but when he dies, Louis, who is Jewish, is asked to say Kadesh, the Hebrew prayer for the dead. He’s not sure of what to say so he wings it at first (very funny when he throws in the prayer for wine). But then the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg appears and stands behind Louis and begins to say the prayer. He doesn’t see Ethel of course, but he ‘hears’ the words of the player and begins to say the words until they both come to the end of the payer. Then Ethel says: ‘Son of a bitch’ and so does Louis. Perfect. Tony Kushner gives Cohn absolution, but also puts in perspective how horrible he was in real life.

This is a huge, brilliant production of a huge brilliant play. Important. Timely.

Continues at the National Theatre until August 19.

Is broadcast on National Theatre Live: July 20, Part One: Millennium Approaches; July 27, Part Two: Perestroika.


At the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, England

From the novel The Sopranos by Alan Warner
Adapted by Lee Hall
Directed by Vicky Featherstone
Designed by Chloe Lamford
Lighting by Lizzie Powell
Sound by Mike Walker
Choreography by Imogen Knight
Cast: Becky Brass
Caroline Deyga
Karen Fishwick
Isis Hainsworth
Lilly Howard
Emily Linden
Kirsty MacLaren
Frances Mayli McCann
Amy Shackcloth
Dawn Sievewright

Lively, irreverent, rude, raw, and almost incomprehensible to me because of the thick Scottish accent and the whizzing slang.

The Story. Six convent girls are going to a choir competition in Edinburgh. It’s been an interesting year. Seven girls alone in this one graduating class have become pregnant. Lots of pent up emotions here. The girls take the bus organized for the journey and along the way get into all manner of trouble: drinking, picking up men, getting drunk, loosing their uniforms (stolen actually), setting fire to a pub, tricking people, telling each other their secrets, getting reprimanded by the Mother Superior, singing their bits in the competition dressed in their street clothes, being eliminated, then going completely wild after that.

The Production
. The six girls introduce themselves to us, facing the audience. There are tables and chairs on the stage on the two sides of the stage for those people silly enough to think these are great seats. All they see are the backs of the heads of the girls or the sides of their heads. As this show is fashioned like a traditional Scottish ceilidh, a party where everyone participates. That might be nice when everyone is all there together, but when people on stage are paying something like £39 at least for the privilege, that’s just nuts.

Director Vicky Featherstone directs this with energy, abandon, raucous liveliness and irreverence. The girls sing beautifully when doing their choir pieces and full out belting when they are rocking.

There are the usual types here: the loner girl who is posh, pregnant and terrified to tell her parents, a girl recovering from cancer and finds it’s come back, a girl who is in love with the one who is pregnant, a girl from an abusive family, etc.

It ends in a blaze of ‘care-less’ energy as the girls belt out their last song in a blaze of light, that these are the best years of their lives. Irony drips from the rafters.

Comment. The meaning of succour: “assistance and support in times of hardship and distress.” “The wounded had little chance of succour.” Irony continues to drip…..

The reviews and the reaction to this wild show have been rapturous. Me, I didn’t care. Not a jot. That happens when the accent is so thick I can’t make out 60% of what they are saying—I’m usually good with this stuff, but was defeated here. Also the slang went so fast again I couldn’t make it out. And the actual content, after a while, destructive behaviour is just so tiresome. Is it generational? Do I lack the needed frustration of these girls to care about them? Feh.

The performances of all the girls and the girl band are stellar. Lee Hall’s adaptation I’m sure is stellar too, it’s just that I didn’t have a clue for the most part about what is going on. When I did, I just could not give a rise to compassion. The girls are all so repressed in that school and so eager to bust out, and so devoid of a sense of right, wrong, and in between, it was a hard road to caring or understanding. When their world really came crashing down—when they were reprimanded by the nuns and tossed out of the competition, they then went into overdrive in wild behaviour, destruction, cold-hearted behaviour to strangers, (men), that I was lost. It was heartening that they showed compassion to each other. Yawn. I will read the source material though, just to see what I’m missing, or not.

A rare dud on this wonderful trip of generally great theatre.

Continues open-ended.


At The Arts Theatre, London, England.

Written by Jon Brittain
Directed by Donnacadh O’Briain
Designed by Ellan Parry
Lighting by Richard Williamson
Sound, composition by Keegan Curran
Movement by Jüri Nael
Cast: Anna Martine Freeman
Alice McCarthy
Ed Eales-While
Ellie Morris

A fascinating play about gender politics, well done, but not explored deeply enough.

The Story. Alice is struggling to write an email to her parents telling them she is a lesbian. She lives in Rotterdam with her lover Fiona. Initially Alice came to Rotterdam with her boyfriend Josh, for work. But then she met Josh’s sister, Fiona and that was that. She left Josh for Fiona but was still friends with Josh. Alice, a reticent woman, can’t send the email just yet. Alice is the femme in the relationship and Fiona is the butch. Then Fiona has news of her own. She wants to live as a man. She wants to go through the whole procedure, hormones, surgery, etc. to live as a man, and changed her name to Adrian. What she has not considered when she makes this decision (and has not told Alice until then) is that Alice loves a woman named Fiona. Then when most of the change (but not full surgery) takes place and all Adrian wants is to ‘pass’ as a man, and ‘he’ proposes to Alice to live as man and wife, is that Adrian had not conserved what Alice really wanted.

The Production. Donnacadh O’Briain’s production is pulsing with rock music from the get-go. Alice is on stage with her lap-top in her lap as the audience files in. She is struggling with her letter to her parents. Fiona keeps popping into the room to check what she’s written but Alice hides the screen. When the play proper begins the two banter and talk about Alice’s reluctance to tell her parents. Fiona is supportive. Josh keeps popping in too. He loves them both and there is no anger that the relationship between him and Alice failed. They are still friends.

Alice, as played by Alice McCarthy is a wobble of uncertainty about the email, about relationships, about wanting to go home. It doesn’t help that too often McCarthy mumbles her words and they get lost in a squeaky sound. As Fiona, Anna Martine Freeman as Fiona has the body language of a boyish man, loose-limbed, big movements but graceful. The hair is a short bob. As Adrian the hair was parted and slicked back as a man’s. The body language is now broad, aggressive, slumped when standing, hands in the pockets. The face is still soft but there is that in between look of her/him when you aren’t sure it’s a man or a woman, and to the person we are looking at our perception is important. I like that whole question of wanting to pass.
Lelani is a young lesbian who works in Alice’s office. She makes the moves on Alice but her placement in the play seems slight and not solidly developed. Lelani is flighty, flitting from one person to another. That Alice can’t tell her she isn’t interested strongly enough speaks to Alice’s weakness.

Comment. I love the whole question of the gender fluidity being addressed, but find it difficult to believe that Fiona would not have had the conversation with Alice about wanting to live her life as a straight man and how that would affect Alice. I find it hard to believe that Fiona/Adrian would not have even considered that Alice would not find this agreeable. The whole question of who actually do we love when we say to someone that we love him/her? Is it the gender of the person? The person and the gender is not important? The person and the gender is important. I am grateful for these questions. But for the whole play I thought that Jon Brittain does not delve deeply enough into the many thorny questions he’s introduced. Still Rotterdam is a good start.

Runs until July 10, 2017.


Anatomy of a Suicide

At the Royal Court

Written by Alice Birch
Directed by Katie Mitchell
Set by Alex Eales
Costumes by Sarah Blenkinsop
Lighting by James Farncombe
Composed by Paul Clark
Sound by Melanie Wilson
Cast: Gershwyn Eustache Jnr
Paul Hilton
Peter Hobday
Adelle Leonce
Sarah Malin
Jodie McNee
Hattie Morahan
Kate O’Flynn
Sophia Pettit,
Vicki Szent-Kirallyi

A wonderfully challenging play taking place in three time periods involving three women, simultaneously, dealing with suicide.

The Story. We are in a hospital. Carol has attempted suicide by slashing her wrists. Her husband John is of course concerned, loving, attentive and lost as to how to help her. She always seems to have had these tendencies, to do herself harm. It gets worse when she has a child.

In another hospital at another time, years in the future, Anna has slashed her wrist. Her partner Dan is concerned, a bit angry, lost as to what to do.

In yet another hospital in another time several years ahead of the first two time, Bonnie is a doctor tending to people who are sick.

About a half-hour into the play it’s clear that Carol, Anna and Bonnie are related. They are mother (Carol), Anna (daughter of Carol) and Bonnie (granddaughter of Carol, daughter of Anna). Suicide haunts all of them. Bonnie asks to be sterilized at one point so that she cannot have the suicidal feelings of her mother and grandmother. Having protected sex or no sex at all is not good enough. She must be sterilized. You gulp hard at that.

The Production and Comment. Katie Mitchell directs this. Say no more. She is iconoclastic, focused, brilliant, laser-eyed in realizing a play, and brings the audience right into the heart of the play.

The stage is stark. There are three doors up at the back and two on each side of the stage. Carol comes through the first door and her space is that portion from that door downstage. Anna enters through the second door and her space is the middle space. Bonnie comes through the third door.

The date is projected above each back door when the scene affects that character. Bonnie’s dates are in the future, 2030. Carol’s are in the past and Anna’s are in the immediate past. Interestingly the text does not list the dates at all so I didn’t make a note of them while I was watching the play!

The play takes place simultaneously when all three women are on stage—they never interact. One character’s pauses provides opportunity for another character, in another time period, to do their scenes. It is all fluid and never seems choppy and awkward. We are never in doubt as to what is happening, although for that first half-hour it’s interesting to see who is whom and how they relate.

Hattie Morahan as Carol is resigned, perhaps in denial (she says what happened was an accident), impatient, frustrated and obviously so unhappy.

Kate O’Flynn as Anna is fragile, her voice seems flighty, almost child-like, attempts a brave face and when she makes her decision to do what she does, very clear mind.

Adelle Leonce as Bonnie is unsettled in a different way. She does not want to happen to her what happened to her grandmother and mother. Yet she is still haunted. She is supposed to sell her mother’s home but can’t make the move to do it. When she does, there is a lovely scene at the end with the new owner, that gives the impression that she has come through the weight of the legacy that she’s had to live with. Small, subtle little scene.

Powerful, gripping sobering play.

Twelfth Night

At Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Directed by Emma Rice
Additional text and lyrics, Carl Grose
Designed by Lez Brotherston
Composer, Ian Ross
Choreographer, Etta Murfitt
Lighting by Malcolm Rippeth
Sound by Simon Baker
Cast: Marc Antolin
Carly Bawden
Nandi Bhebhe
Tony Jayawardena
Joshua Lacey
Pieter Lawman
Le Gateau Chocolat (I’m not making this up)
Annette McLaughlin
Kandaka Moore
Katy Owen
John Pfumojena
Theo St. Claire
Anita-Joy Uwajeh

Joyous, lively, irreverent in the extreme but the play is there, clear and sobering. You are never in doubt that what is happening to Malvolio is terrible.

Comment. Much has been written about Emma Rice’s short tenure as the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. She has been pilloried for admitting that she has sometimes found Shakespeare boring (hello!! Yes!!) or that she might not have been as familiar with his plays as one might have wanted. She did the terrible, unforgivable thing of wanting to have her own lighting design involving all manner of lighting effects instead of using the one set of lights and a common design. Horrors! So her contract is up shorter than expected. An uproar went up from those who support her and know how important a kick in the pants is to a theatre that needs it. And of course from the nose in the air snoots who think that tradition is all and Shakespeare must be done as it was always meant to be, traditionally. Whatever that means.

But her productions of the two Shakespeare plays I’ve seen (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night) are dazzlingly imaginative, get to the heart of the play, and indicate a brain that is blazingly intelligent.

Production and Comment. A rock music score gives this production a bounce and verve. Emma Rice opens her production on the boat with twins Viola and Sebastian and the crew waking up to bouncy music. The storm comes and there is a desperate dance of the twins holding on to each other as they are being torn apart by the wind and storm. Sebastian is taken away, saved, in a boat that is negotiated through the groundlings.

Viola slips off the edge of the stage into the Groundlings where she changes her costume (aided by a discrete stage hand) and then appears on stage again, dressed as a boy, Cesario, to come into the employ of a hip, Scottish-dancing Duke Orsino (Joshua Lacey). The object of Orsino’s unrequited love is Olivia, imperious, cool, uninterested. Annette McLaughlin is lovely and commonsensical here until she is smitten with who she thinks is Cesario.

Olivia’s drunken, mean-joking uncle is played as a Scotsman in a kilt (Tony Jayawardena). His side-kick, Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a dyed-haired, prancing, hilarious twit (Marc Antolin). Malvolio is played by Kate Owen, a sprightly, short woman, who plays him as a man with a moustache and a whistle, which is blown constantly to get people’s attention. Malvolio is played with a Welsh accent, perhaps one more reason why he is not liked in that household.

Overseeing the whole thing is Feste played by a creature who is awesome and mesmerizing. Six foot, four inches at least, 250 pounds at least, a huge Diana Ross wig, wearing a gold sparkly caftan, shoes with heels, blue eye shadow, fingernails in flame-red polish. And a full beard. Feste is played by Le Gateau Chocolat. He has a bass-baritone voice. He is majestic. All the songs are sung with such class. At the beginning of the show, Feste ‘sails’ (this guy never moves fast) down to the edge of the stage and puts four rocks in a pile at the lip.

At the end of the show, when Malvolio says: “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” it’s heartbreaking. Malvolio walks to the edge of the stage and puts the four rocks in his pocket and looks like he will jump/fall into water (the Groundling area) and drown himself, but he is stopped when Feste grabs his arm and pulls him back. Feste then climbs down into the Groundling area and holds his hands up to bring Malvolio down too. The two of them walk hand and hand through the Groundling area and off. Two misfits finding their own solace from that cruel, mean world. Woow.

Emma Rice has taken some liberties with the text. When Viola says “What should I do in Elyria when my brother, he is in Elysium,” Elysium is changed to ‘watery grave.’ I like the poetry of the original but can see the clarity for the change. I don’t think one is talking down to people who have not seen the play before. I think it’s just being clearer. I’m sure there were other liberties too. I don’t care.

This was a wonderfully acted, lively, moving, thoughtful, smart production. Rice has her cast microphoned. Ordinarily I hate this. Here it’s fine. That means the cast is not shouting as they have in the past. Change. Clarity. Glorious theatre.


La Strada

At the Other Palace Theatre, London, England
Devised by the company.
Writer in the room, Mike Akers
Based on the subject and script work by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli
Directed by Sally Cookson
Original music by Benji Bower
Set and costumes by Katie Sykes
Lighting by Aideen Malone
Sound by Mike Beer
Movement by Cameron Carver
Company: Audrey Brisson
Stuart Goodwin
Bart Soroczynski
Matt Costain
Fabrizio Matteini
Sofie Lyback
Teowa Vuong
Niv Petel
Niccolo Curradi
Tatiana Sandini
Luke Potter
T J Holmes
Tim Dalling

Bracing, lively, so moving about the lonely life on the road of a circus act.

Gelsomina is a young woman who is taken on the road as the assistant to Zampano, a strong man in his own circus act. He pays Gelsomina’s mother 10,000 lire for her. Before Gelsomina he took her sister Rosa on the road but she died and the details are sketchy. He simply says she didn’t last the winter, suggesting she was frail. We begin to squirm early in this show because of Zampano’s behavior.

They travel from town to town on his motor scooter. He is strong, angry, mean, gruff, drinks and is careless in his treatment of Gelsomina. He often abandons her to go off whoring. Occasionally he beats her. And doesn’t pay her as he promised, so she can then send money back to her mother.

She is befriended by Il Matto (The Fool) another circus performer who is kind, funny, irreverent, and tries to stand up to Zampano. But Zampano is a bully and it does not end well for The Fool.

Sally Cookson is a director I always seek out for her imaginative, performance based work. She directed Peter Pan and Jane Eyre at the National. She uses circus procedures, acrobatics, ropes, ladders, swings, balancing tricks and all manner of physical techniques.

Various wood boxes are the props and a bar with a light in the middle is used to create the simple motor scooter. Gelsomina sits on a box behind Zampano who sits in front, holding the bar with the light in the middle illuminated. They bob, sway and move in unison suggesting a bumpy ride on the scooter. A band of musicians plays around the action, involved in it occasionally, acting as other acts in various circuses that are visited.

As Gelsomina, Audrey Brisson is a diminutive sprite of a woman. You aren’t sure of her age-neither the character nor the actress. I assume the character is about 12, but I could be wrong. Brisson is obviously older. She reminds me of a young Kathryn Hunter with the same compelling moves, imagination and creativity. And she is so mournful, serious and mesmerizing. As Zampano, Stuart Goodwin is a powerhouse of a man, loud, imposing, intimidating. As The Fool, Bart Soroczynski is a kind of comic relief in a mean world. He is the centre of the circus skills for the show having created the movement and choreography of The Fool.

No tender, moving moment is squandered in Sally Cookson’s careful, imaginative vividly realized production. How could it be when one of the lines is “I don’t know why I’m living.”

I’ve never seen the film of La Strada but this production and the liner notes of the program will make me see it.

It plays until July 8, 2017.

Queen Anne

At the Haymarket Theatre, London, England.

Written by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Natalie Abrahami
Set and costumes by Hannah Clark
Lighting by Charles Balfour
Composers and sound by Ben and Max Ringham
Movement by Anna Morrissey
Cast: Emma Cunniffe
Hywel Morgan
Dave Fishley
Romola Garai
Chu Omambala
Beth Park
Richard Hope
Jonny Glynn
Jonathan Christie

Initially confusing historically and very dense in the story-telling, but Helen Edmunson’s ability to capture the mean, malicious gossiping and politics of the court in the 1700s and make it seem so timely to us is a reason to see it, that and the dandy production.

Queen Anne came to the English throne in 1702. Initially she seemed very unsuitable for the job. She was sickly, often not able to move because of gout (we are told) and weight. She had 17 pregnancies but lost most of her children in childbirth. If they did come to term they too died young.

She has a school girl friend in Sarah Churchill. Anne’s affection for Sarah could be likened to obsessive love. Sarah uses that to gain power in court and that of her soldier husband. It seems that Sarah uses cunning and manipulation to control Anne and subtly make her follow her lead regarding court, decisions, decrees etc.

The gossips had a field day and would rip Anne’s physical traits and her reticence to shreds. There were pubs and rooms to do this, since Fox News and Breitbart wasn’t invented yet. Sarah also got into the act. Until finally Anne’s integrity and her determination came to the fore. She began ruling with a soft, iron fist. Sarah and her husband were sent packing.

I found the history of the play daunting. I’d never heard of Queen Anne before. Historic references kept whizzing by and I was lost. But Helen Edmundson’s historical work (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Mill on the Floss) is terrific.

Director Natalie Abrahami has created a fast-paced production with draws every air-sucking moment from the history and situations of the times. The needy relationship of Anne for Sarah is palpable in the performance of Emma Cunniffe as Anne. She is almost obsequious in her dependence. Every movement initially is an effort until Anne gets more and more confidence. As Sarah, Romola Garai is an ice queen of cunning. She plays on Anne’s affections and insecurity. This is one vicious, mean woman who is at home at that time, and sad to say, ours.

I did have trouble with the history, but I can remedy that with research. But how this play sings and is so contemporary given our present political penchant for gossip, rumour, innuendo, fake news, real news made to seem fake, makes this a powerhouse play. And scary.

It seems to have an open-ended run.


National Theatre Live


Originally broadcast June 22. Check listings for encore presentation.
A new play by Yaël Farber
Directed by Yaël Farber
Designed by Susan Hilferty
Lighting by Tim Lutkin
Music and sound by Adam Cork
Cast: Philip Arditti
Paul Chahidi
Ramzi Choukair
Uriel Emil
Olwen Fouéré
Lloyd Hutchinson
Shahar Isaac
Aidan Kelly
Yasmin Levy
Theo T J. Lowe
Isabella Nefar
Lubana Al Quntar
Raad Rawi

Ponderous, often incomprehensible, declarative acting, a huge sweep of vision but so what?

From the program: ‘From her prison beneath the walls of her city, Nameless recounts what led her to call for the beheading of Iokanaan (John the Baptist) in her youth. Her story shows how Rome’s suppression of the people and religion of Judea acted as a catalyst in her transformation from subjugated young girl to the woman who came to be known as Salomé.’

Yaël Farber has taken various versions of the Salomé story and fashioned this version. The Roman’s were keeping John the Baptist alive so he would not become a martyr in death. When John the Baptist met Salomé he realized she was the saviour of her people.

Salomé was lusted after by Herod. She was his step daughter. He wanted her. She was repelled. He still wanted her. The only line of his that will ring out into the history of ridiculous lines is this one: ‘Your saliva is the secret source of my life.’ At first I thought he said it was the ‘secret sauce’ of his life, but was told it’s ‘secret source.’ Either way it is the most ridiculous line in a ponderous play and production.

Yaël Farber has done wonderful work both in her writing and directing: Meiss Julie comes readily to mind. She has a vision and sweep to her work with the most elegant directorial touches. None of that is here.

The cast is encouraged to declaim so everybody yells except for Nameless (Olwen Fouéré) to a certain extend. Isabella Nefar is a quivering, sultry Salomé who shrinks whenever Herod (Paul Chahidi) comes near her. In a certain way, Chahidi is quite good as Herod. He does put lust and saliva into his speeches and you can see the desperation to ‘have her’ that he has for Salomé. She uses this and promises to dance the Dance of the Seven Veils if he will bring her the Head of John the Baptist. That’s how she helps John the Baptist get his wish—to die. And thus be a martyr.

There’s a lot of smoky lighting. There is a constant ringing of Middle Eastern sounding music in Adam Cork’s score sung by two women. The dance is less about veils and more about pulling the curtains around the set (the dance of the seven curtains??). It would be impressive if it wasn’t silly.

Hell would be having to see this again. And I will because I have a ticket to see it at the National Theatre this week. I want to see the whole of it, not obstructed by camera work. Sigh.


Luminato’s schedule and mine being what they were, I was only able to see these two shows on their last day. Then off to London, England for more theatre for me, a dead computer and internet cafes. Enough whining.


At the Joey and toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, Toronto, Ont.
By Signal Theatre
Co-Director and Co-Creator, Michael Greyeyes
Co-Director and Co-Creator, Yvette Nolan
Musical Director, Gregory Oh
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Costumes by Joanna Yu
Projection design by Laura Warren
Performers: Marion Newman
Irvin Chow
Aria Evans
Ceinwen Gobert
Ana Groppler
Louse Laberge-Cote
Daniel McArthur
Sophie Merasty
Brandon Oakes
Jullian Peever

A moving dance piece that re-examines the Indigenous experience by teaching a group of Canadians what that meant.

Co-directors and creators, Michael Greyeyes and Yvette Nolan have created a gripping, moving piece in three parts in which Canadians, reluctant to address what happened to Indigenous people in residential schools are faced with their actions, put in the position and clothing of Indigenous people and learn, in a sense, what happened to those people. They come out of the experience, wiser and more aware than they were before. A dialogue between the Canadians and the Indigenous people is now possible.

The piece has a huge sweep to it and details that will take your breath away. A priest sexually abuses a young Indigenous girl. Just outside of the scene on the edges are two witnesses. One witness, a man sitting in a chair, turns to the other witness and puts his finger up to his lips indicating to say nothing. Chilling. Anger, despair and sadness suffuse the piece. But there is an effort for reconciliation that is hopeful. Terrific piece.

Uncle Vanya

At the John Bassett Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

From the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia
Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Rimas Tuminas
The idea (???), literary composition and staging by Rimas Tuminas
Set and costumes by Adomas Yatsovskis
Music by Faustas Latenas
Lighting Maya Shavdatuashvili
Sound by Ruslan Knushevitsky
Cast: Vladimir Simonov
Anna Dubrovskaya
Eugenia Kregzhde
Liudmila Maksakova
Sergey Makovetskiy
Artur Ivanov
Yury Kraskov
Inna Alabina
Sergey Epishev

The longest, most pretentious production of Uncle Vanya I have ever seen.

Sonya and her Uncle Vanya tend to the estate of Aleksandr Serebryakov, Sonya’s father from his first marriage. He’s a pompous professor. Serebryakov and his second wife Elena come for a visit and everyone is in a tizzy, especially Dr. Astrov, who seems to be tired tending the sick and drinking vodka. The men are smitten by Elena. Sonya loves Dr. Astrov from afar but he doesn’t notice.

The play is full of desperate emotions, unrequited love and all its attendant angst, drudgery, resolve and work.
It is clear from the first ponderous entrance of Serebryakov and his entourage, from Elena rolling a hoola hoop between Uncle Vanya and Dr. Astrov, both vying for her attention, and all manner of annoying bits of attention grabbing business, that director Rimas Tuminas thinks he’s the star of the production. He has changed speeches and removed others (in this production, Sonya and Uncle Vanya don’t lament about work at the end).

In this production characters rarely look at each other when they are spoken to. They look out to the audience, looking blankly. The most evocative scene between Dr. Astrov and Elena, when he is showing her how the land has changed over the decades, is squandered with a lack of connection. Dr. Astrov says that she is bored without even looking at her. The audience doesn’t see any of the diagrams because what Elena is looking at is through some contraption.

Eugenia Kregzhde as Sonya is a bubble of unrequited emotion for Dr. Astrov, frustration at her lot in life, and effort to get through. Sergey Makovetskiy plays Ivan Petrovich Voynitsky (Uncle Vanya but you wouldn’t know it from the program). He is consumed with jealousy at the Professor, love for Elena, disappointment in life and raging emotions. Lovely performances.

It’s always interesting to see companies from other countries bring theatre here. The Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia has been celebrated in its travels, as has its director, Rimas Tuminas. One country’s brilliance is another country’s pretention.

Dreary. Pretentious. Ponderous. Self-important. Feh.