Review: The Queen’s Conjuror

by Lynn on November 12, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Attic Arts Hub, 1402 Queen St. E, Toronto, Ont.

Co-written by Joshua Browne and Alec Toller
Directed by Alec Toller
Lighting by Steve Vargo
Set by Erica-Maria Causi
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Cast: Joshua Browne
John Fray
Sochi Fried
Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah
Tim Walker

A fascinating exploration of what is perceived as divine spirituality and mysticism in deciphering the meaning of the discovery of a new star in the sky. And it takes place in the 16th century in England.

The Story. England, in the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth I needs an explanation. A new star has been discovered in the sky and she needs to know the meaning of it. She charges her advisor John Dee to find out. Dee is both a scientist and magician. He in turn gets help from Edward Talbot, a scryer, a man who can see spirits and has visions as a result. Dee believes that Talbot holds the key to the meaning of the new star.

While Dee is bedevilled with the spirits, leaving him exhausted, he is able to get them to explain the meaning of the star. At the same time Talbot misinterprets another aspect of the discovery and this leads to a huge personal problem for Dee, his wife and Talbot and his wife Joanna. It’s fascinating watching the mystery of the star’s meaning unfold, but still have a clue in this day and age, that Talbot has blundered in one area of his explanation. .

The Production. The always interesting Circlesnake Productions is presenting this fascinating work in a pokey space above a bar in the East End of Toronto. Erica-Maria Causi’s set design is spare but effective. John Dee’s desk is large and substantial for a man of science. Chairs are simple wood. The throne for Queen Elizabeth I is ornate but a red covering makes it royal. The costumes are ornate and full for Queen Elizabeth I; simpler for Jane Dee, John’s wife; and for Dee and Talbot they are the elaborate costumes of men of court or those who want to be.

Director Alec Toller has a fine command of how to tell this compelling story; guide his cast and convince us that this is the 16th century. Relationships, uncertainty and intrigue are ably established.

The cast is first rate with some powerhouses of the Indie theatre scene. Tim Walker is a compelling John Dee; imposing, always thinking and exploring, anxious for an answer because Queen Elizabeth I is anxious to know and he knows he will not find a place at court unless Elizabeth is happy. As Edward Talbot, Joshua Browne seems almost fragile and yet possessed when he is overpowered by the spirits who mess him up mentally. He needs them to tell him the truth and the meaning of things, but it wears him out. Browne conveys the exhaustion, uncertainty, and confusion of what he is going through. As Jane Dee, Sochi Fried has an easy grace as John Dee’s wife and scientific collaborator. Fried imbues Jane Dee with intelligence, imagination and compassion. John Fray plays Uriel, the dark spirit who haunts Talbot. Fray is brooding and dangerous. Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah plays both Queen Elizabeth I and Joanna, Edward Talbot’s wife. These are masterful performances because they are so different. As Queen Elizabeth I Roberts-Abdullah has a regal sense about her, confident, slightly imperious and almost stony faced in not letting any sense of emotion tip her hand, but when she raises an eye-brow to suggest a question, it’s like an explosion of disbelief. As Joanna, her body language is that of a wife trying to hang on to her husband. Joanna is out of her comfort zone and this is beautifully rendered in Roberts-Abdullah’s subtle performance. Both Alec Toller and his cast capture the formal body language of characters from the 16th century and certainly give that sense by wearing and using the costumes properly. There is no sense of the modern age in the cast’s demeanour—it is all 16th century.

Comment. The Queen’s Conjuror by Joshua Browne and Alec Toller is so refreshing in its intriguing storytelling, premise and it’s convincing formal language. The phrasing, the terminology and even the sentence structure puts us right in that time. And it makes us keenly aware of how easy it is to misinterpret words taken out of context or taken literally.

Terrific production.

Circlesnake Productions present.

First performance: Nov. 3, 2016.
I saw it: Nov. 4, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 20, 2016.
Cast: 5; 3 men, 2 women.

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