by Lynn on June 10, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

A the Royal George Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Jim Mezon
Designed by Leslie Frankish
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Projections designed by Cameron Davis
Original music by John Gzowski
Movement by Jane Johanson
Starring: Julia Course
Jennifer Dzialoszynski
Patrick McManus
Peter Millard
Gray Powell
Tara Rosling
Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

A disappointment of uneven acting, slack direction, and distracting sets that screamed “LOOK AT ME.”

The Story. Mrs. Lanfrey Clandon and her three children: Gloria the eldest, and Dolly and Philip (who are twins) have returned to England from Madeira where they have lived for 18 years. There is no husband since Mrs. Clandon divorced him and one senses it was acrimonious. Mrs. Clandon never mentions him. The children don’t even know who their father is and they are anxious to know. They have arrived at a seaside resort.

Dolly needs a dentist and is attended to by one named Valentine. He’s not very successful but he’s charming. When Philip comes to escort Dolly to lunch, he invites Valentine, who in turn invites his irascible landlord, Mr. Fergus Crampton. When Valentine first sees Gloria, it’s love at first sight for him, and distain for her. She is an independent woman who feels she does not need a man to be her own person. This only intrigues Valentine more. As luck would have it Mr. Crampton is Mrs. Clandon’s former husband—never mind the different names, just trust me. Naturally the sight of the other is upsetting, more so to him than to her.

Mrs. Clandon is graceful, wise, patient with her rambunctious twins and gracious to everybody she meets. Mr. Crampton is bossy, perhaps bullying, obstreperous and impatient. He is aghast when he meets his children. He thinks the twins are badly brought up, ill-mannered and need strict discipline. Gloria seems to unsettle him too because she is so cool. He would like to be something to her unlike anyone else—a father perhaps. She’s not buying it. The twins are free spirits; precocious, curious, mischievous, and irrepressible. They have a certain confident style but they might rub people the wrong way.

And there is William the waiter in the spiffy restaurant where they are all dining. William is not involved in the story but is there to smooth the rough waters; to be of perfect service, to be there before people know he’s needed; ready with a reassuring word. William knows that no matter the preparation life has a way of surprising and things take unexpected turns. As he often says, “You never can tell.”

The Production. Leslie Frankish’s sets for Valentine’s operating room, the terrace of the Marine Hotel, and the Clandons’ sitting room in the hotel, are a series of set pieces that fly in and up that get more and more eye-popping as the designs get more and more distracting. Eventually the abundance of ‘stuff,’ each with a different design, completely overpowers the production. I have found this to be a problem with many of her designs for previous productions.

While You Never Can Tell is a play about love; between parent and child, husband and wife and prospective husbands and wives, this is after all Shaw and he doesn’t miss an opportunity to philosophize. Valentine has a lot to say about love, propriety, decorum and wooing Gloria. And since Valentine is played by Gray Powell there is boyish charm, a witty energy and a thoughtfulness in the manoeuvring. Julia Course plays Gloria with a cool condescension. Gloria is also uptight, righteous and rigid until she learns how to allow another person(s) into her life. First it’s Valentine and then it’s her father. This is a lovely performance by Course.

As Mrs. Clandon, Tara Rosling is grace personified. She has endured a lot and deals with it in a calm, watchful manner. I also think that for this role, Rosling seems to be using a deeper voice; it’s the voice of a mature woman and is totally compelling. Rosling also has an amusing manner when dealing with her two challenging twins. It’s calm but almost resigned to the fact that nothing will ‘tame’ them.

A more attentive director might have helped. At times it looks as if Jim Mezon just let his actors go off on wild tangents instead of corralling them to be part of the ensemble. Mr. Crampton is an ill-tempered, impatient man, but the way Patrick McManus seems to be directed to play him, is so over the top angry at all times, one fears he might suffer a heart attack. His face is beet red. Crampton has to have some charm or how would he have been successful in business.

The twins are another problem. As twins they present a momentary funny sight; Jennifer Dzialoszynski as Dolly is diminutive; Stephen Jackman-Torkoff is tall and slim. She is white, he is black. I guess we are supposed to ignore the skin colour but of course in this case it’s been used for humourous effect. (sigh). They are both unbridled in their energy, and often too loud in their delivery. I wish she had vocal coaching to help with her voice. I wish Jackman-Torkoff was guided to play the elegance and style of Philip and not as someone who is fey, which Philip is not.

As William, Peter Millard is courtly, gracious, attentive and always there to offer a soothing word that calms matters. Williams knows how to get all these people together to deal with one another and he does it with aplomb.

Comment. You Never Can Tell is one of Shaw’s most accessible comedies. It has wit, philosophy about love and courting; thoughts on parenting and marriage. It’s not a farce although at times Jim Mezon’s production seems like one. A disappointment.

Produced by the Shaw Festival.

Run: April 26, 2015 to October 25, 2015.
Cast: 13; 8 men, 5 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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