Full reviews: HENRY V and MR. MARMALADE

by Lynn on July 22, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, July 21, 2012 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM; HENRY V at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and MR. MARMALADE at the Holy Family Catholic School.

The Host and producer was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Friday Morning. Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer has returned from her vacation in England and is back with us to talk about some plays she saw here.

Hi Lynn. What do you have for us this week?

I hit the road running when I got back. There was a lot to see. I’ll be talking about HENRY V that I saw at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. And MR. MARMALADE that I saw in a kindergarten class room—and you were there too, so that discussion should be really interesting.

2) Why did you pick these two?

I picked HENRY V because it’s a major production, and it’s directed by Des McAnuff, the Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and considering my difficulties with the place of late, I wanted to deal with it and get it over with.

And I picked Mr. MARMALADE because it’s directed by Mitchell Cushman who is burning up the theatre scene with his incredible inventiveness. I missed seeing this one at Summerworks last year and was anxious to see this remount.

3) Ok, let’s get to it. HENRY V, give us a brief outline of the story.

Will Prince Henry (Hal to his friends) be able to shake his hell-raising reputation, (established in Henry IV parts I and II) and develop into a politically astute, responsible king?

Henry V gives us the answer as the now King Henry V deals with treachery in his court, and the threat of war with the French. The French owe Henry property. They don’t want to give it back. Neither do they want to deal with Henry saying he’s too young.

To show their contempt for his youth and inexperience they bring him a gift of a box of tennis balls. Henry calmly and coldly says that he will turn those balls into cannon balls and war is imminent.

The English are outnumbered about 10 to 1 in the Battle of Agincourt. But Henry and his army prevail. In his short time as king, Henry reveals a sharp wit to deal with the condescension of the French court; a compelling sense of the common man when secretly gauging how his men are coping with the fear of an impending battle; and a boyish charm when wooing Princess Catherine, daughter to the King of France, to be his future queen.

It’s a fascinating play of political intrigue, psychological one-upmanship, and reading the common man.

4) You have been vocal about Des McAnuff’s direction. What did you like here?

Director Des McAnuff’s busy production is full of striking images. For example actors come downstage and go up through the auditorium carrying poles with billowing material attached to it, representing the English fleet sailing to France. Terrific image.

A character named Bardolph, one of Henry’s former drinking buddies, has a dramatic demise at the end of Act I that is chilling because it’s so focused.

Michael Walton’s lighting is impressive, moody, and majestic. The light pours down in eerie shafts.


5) Why did I know there would be a but….

Because alas, with this director there always is a but….. McAnuff chokes his production by consistently upstaging the play and the actors with a constant swirl of distracting activity and lack of focus. Scene changes always happen during the previous scene so that we are consistently distracted from listening to the character speaking because of the upstaging activity going on either in front of or behind the speaker.

Some specifics:

The famous “O for a muse of fire speech” begins the play, spoken by the Chorus. The Chorus is usually one person but here McAnuff has decided that many actors will say a few lines of the speech, beginning with the wonderful Tom Rooney.

Fair enough.

Except that not all of the speakers have the same acting abilities as Tom Rooney in enlivening the speech. With so many speakers scattered all over the stage, you don’t get the whole powerful sense of the speech because you can’t immediately tell who’s speaking and therefore lose the thread of the thought.

There is an imposing draw bridge that lowers and raises often during the production. I had to wonder what is it joining or separating, it’s not clear and it has to be, and not just a clever idea about nothing?

A scene takes place in (I assume) the Boar’s Head pub and a pole is stuck in the stage downstage centre, with a Boar’s head at the top of the pole. Ok, except of course that even in a good seat, the boar’s head obstructs the view of characters upstage. Cut the pole and the head. We don’t need to know the name of the pub. Or if you must, have the pole and head upstage centre where it’s not obstructing the view of the audience.

While the text says that Henry has all the prisoners killed by slitting their throats, McAnuff isn’t content with that vivid image. He adds his own.

He has prisoners rounded up and thrown into some kind of underground dungeon, doors are shut over these men, nailed down and then torched with fire and the prisoners burned with lots of attendant screaming.

They’ve just had a battle on a field. So where are these underground dungeons? Were they just dug? And why? There is no clear answer. Again, we are distracted from the play by an illogical directorial concept.

The most mystifying is the very beginning and very last part of the bow. In the beginning, actors come on stage in street clothes. One wears a hockey sweater with a huge, red maple leaf. It’s not the Toronto Maple Leafs’ jersey so what is it? Team Canada? Why? The winter Olympics have passed.

Another wears a t-shirt with the CBC logo on it? Are these Canadian icons to tell us where we are? We don’t need reminding. We know where we are.

At the very last part of the bow a huge Canadian flag is raised and the song “Revolution” sung by John Lennon and the Beatles blares over the PA system. And the meaning is what? That we should have a revolution? In Canada? Mystifying.

A consistent criticism of Des McAnuff is that he’s more interested in dazzling us with moving the set and changing the scenes than he is in illuminating the play.

6) Did you at least like the acting?

There are many wonderful performances here:

Tom Rooney as the first Chorus speaker lifting those majestic words, and later as an angry, compelling Pistol. Lucy Peacock who plays Pistol’s wife, with energy and compelling emotional. Randy Hughson plays a randy and bellowing Bardolph with an endearing gruffness. Ben Carlson is a jaunty, loquacious Fluellen. Bethany Jillard is a joyful, confident Catherine, the French princess, learning how to speak English, taught by her lady in waiting, Alice. Alice is played with grace and wide-eyed helpfulness by Deborah Hay.

But it all hangs on Henry V and while Aaron Krohn speaks the language ‘trippingly off the tongue, he lacks the depth and variation needed to bring the character to life.

Good performances aside, this HENRY V is a mess of distraction at the expense of the text, the poetry, and the elegance of the play.

Rather than showing off the play, director Des McAnuff is just showing off.

7)And now for something completely different. MR. MARMALADE, which I also saw on the opening. Please give us a brief synopsis of the story.

Written by American writer Noah Haidle and directed by wunderkind Mitchell Cushman.

It’s about Lucy. She’s four years old and has an imaginary friend named Mr. Marmalade. He is a workaholic businessman, a bully, mean, manipulative and a tease. He leads Lucy to think they will spend time together but then he leaves her alone. Often Mr. Marmalade’s assistant Bradley will come over and try and smooth the waters. Often it appears Bradley has been beaten up, by Mr. Marmalade.

Lucy’s mother is divorced but has many, many men friends. Often Lucy is left alone or with a lousy babysitter—meaning she’s not good at her job. Lucy meets Larry, who is 5, lonely and suicidal. As you can tell, this is not your little feel-good kids’ story. It’s dark, very funny, quite moving, unsettling and intriguing for so many reasons. Not the least of which is the location for the production.

8). Tell us about that.

Director Mitchell Cushman is a devotee of sight specific theatre. This was a hit of last year’s Summerworks and so Mitchell found the means to re-mount it in a different school. So he has set Mr. Marmalade in two rooms of a real kindergarten class in a real school.

A narrator reads the chapters of the story and bids us to follow the action around the room, sit in the little seats, explore and watch. The action is right in our faces in some cases, thus giving us a sense of intimacy as well as an emotional punch. I thought it worked a treat. Mitchell has a keen sense of character and drama. He knows how to bring out both in his cast and his audience.

9) This is such an odd play. Do you think it works?

I do. I like Noah Haidle’s work. The story is so intriguing. It’s really an adult story told by children, which makes it more poignant because they have grownup challenges at such an early age. I like the shifts in the story-telling that does wrench these kids back and forth between a grow-up world and a child’s world.

I love the inventiveness of Cushman in establishing that kindergarten world. He uses the kids’ paintings on the walls and what’s around in the actual classroom and then adds his own stuff.

We are given juice-boxes at a certain time—it’s hot and we’re thirsty. When the play ends, there is a surprise waiting for us at the curb that will make anyone smile.

As Lucy Amy Keating, is sweet, optimistic, lives in hope of a better time; street smart, and lonely. As the mysterious Mr. Marmalade, Phillip Riccio is slick, formidable, and dangerous.

As Larry, the sad, skinny suicidal five-year-old friend of Lucy, Ishae Buchbinder, is goofy, fake-buoyant to hide his loneliness and troubles and sweetly charming. The whole cast in fact is full of conviction and focus.

And while the Narrator, Julie Tepperman tells us to explore and physically follow the characters from room to room, she does a good job of telling us what is happening and where to go. We are so timid. The Narrator usually leads the way, beckoning us to follow the action.

We get the hang of it eventually and in the end, we follow, sit, watch and slide down the rabbit hole into that world. I’m glad I got to see it this year.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

HENRY V plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival until September 29. www.stratfordfest.com

MR. MARMALADE plays at the Holy Family Catholic School at 141 Close Ave. Until July 28. www.outsidethemarch.ca

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