Reviews: ORLANDO (Soulpepper) and PYGMALION (Guild Festival Theatre)

by Lynn on July 23, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Written by Virginia Woolf

Adapted by Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Katrina Darychuk

Set and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Gillian Gallow

Sound and composed by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Sarah Afful

Maev Beaty

John Jarvis

Craig Lauzon

Alex McCooeye

This is a perfect example of how a beautifully written, densely described book does not necessarily translate to the stage, no matter how talented the playwright. A deadly production regardless of the fancy-footwork of the director.

 The Story. It’s about Orlando who lived for about 400 years ago first as a man beginning in the time of Queen Elizabeth I until he was 30 and then as a woman for the rest of her life into the 20th century. What Virginia Woolf is writing about is an entire history of English Literature, history, philosophy, politics, and sexual politics as seen through the eyes and experienced through the mind and body of Orlando.

He was born a boy into privilege in the time of Elizabeth 1, who fancied him.  He fell in love with a Russian princess of sorts named Sasha.  When Orlando was 30 he went to sleep and woke up as a woman and remained so for three centuries. She never changed her name.  She fell in love and married but her husband’s sexuality might have been in question too.

The Production. American playwright Sarah Ruhl has adapted the book into a play. The story is told as narrative in the third person by various characters. Occasionally Orlando  interacts directly with other characters and so the story gets told in various ways, but mostly as narrative and direct conversation to the audience.

The director, Katrina Darychuk has the audience on three sides of a rectangular playing in the middle of the theatre. Lorenzo Savoini, the set and lighting designer has a blotch of something shiny, seemingly liquid on the stage. Perhaps it represents the water of the Thames or ice the few times in its history that the Thames froze. There is a wall with a door suspended a bit above the floor. It looks impressive but I don’t know why it’s suspended. There is one chair outside the playing area that is one of the few props. Members of the chorus who also play characters are positioned at each corner of the rectangular playing area: one in a dark suit with a ruffled shirt, one in a regular suit, one in what looks like a monks robe.  Gillian Gallow’s costumes are stylish even witty. At one point Orlando is helped out of her tight 19th century women’s corsets and form-fitting clothes into the more flowing garb of the 20th century where she can be clothed comfortably and can actually breathe easy.

The various members of the chorus describe Orlando at sixteen and how he was born into privilege. The words of Virginia Woolf are used for the narrative and they are highly literary and dense in their description. We learn that Orlando is a courtier in the court of Elizabeth 1 and those scenes are acted out between Orlando, played by an expressive, courtly Sarah Afful. Elizabeth 1 is played with prissy affectation by John Jarvis in pants, an auburn wig, with a corset of sorts around his middle. You can see how besotted Orlando is when he meets and falls in love with the mysterious Russian princess, Sasha, played with flirty coyness by Maev Beaty, in skin-tight leather pants.

So much of Virginia Woolf’s novel is densely descriptive and yet compelling. But this does not translate into a vibrant play. In fact the play is deadly dull when great swaths of the narrative are presented in tact in the play.  And these actors are dull conveying the narrative as well.  They are good actors in other plays but here they are defeated by the play.

It’s directed by Katrina Darychuk who is a member of the Soulpepper Academy as a director—in other words she’s advancing her training here. She’s not ready for such a difficult play. She has stuffed her production with all manner of techno bells and whistles, flashing lights, balloons suspended above the stage only to be pricked for effect by a character. None of it helps to tell the story or make this leaden play lighter.

Comment.  Virginia Woolf was exploring sexuality in various guises in Orlando among other subjects. She dedicated the book to Vita Sackville-West, her one-time lover, whose life forms the framework for Orlando. Vita Sackville-West was married to a man but had affairs with women. It’s a dense book, full of long descriptions and musings.

Virginia Woolf has written a fascinating, complex novel about gender issues, literature, science and the world and as a novel it’s compelling. Sarah Ruhl has tried to take that compelling novel and make it an equally compelling play and it doesn’t work.

She is a gifted playwright, but sometimes even gifted writers stumble.  Orlando is a big stumble and this production doesn’t help.


Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company

Plays until July 29, 2018.

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes, including one intermission.



At the Guild Park and Gardens, Scarborough, Ont.

Written by George Bernard Shaw

Directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey

Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes

Music director, Micaela Morey

Lighting by Cosette Pin

Cast: Devon Bryan

Shane Carty

Manon Ens-LaPointe

Tracey Ferencz

Emma Ferreira

Siobhan O’Malley

David John Phillips

Ashlie White

“Eynsford Hill” (Band): Manon Ens-LaPointe

Emma Ferreira

Ashlie White.

Generally a thoughtful, smart production of Shaw’s wonderful play that skewers the British class system and the importance of kindness in shaping a person.

The Story. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw is perhaps Shaw’s most popular play, about a common flower girl in Covent Garden, London, England who is taught by Professor Henry Higgins how to speak properly and behave beautifully and it changes her life.  Professor Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, wagers that he can teach Eliza to speak properly and then present her at a garden party at Buckingham Palace. It’s the basis of the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady.

This of course references the Greek story of Pygmalion, a sculptor who creates a statue of a beautifully woman falls in love with it.

The Production. It’s being presented out doors at the beautiful Guild Park and Gardens in front of a kind of Grecian façade, in Scarborough. They had a terrific turnout and there were even some kids in the audience. The setting is beautiful but bring bug spray. Chairs are set up for the audience.

This is full of Shaw’s wit, perception about society, politics and psychology of people and how they relate. He skewers the British class system and how a plumy accent will get you promoted and a working class accent will keep one in the gutter. It’s about how to treat a person for the best results.

Higgins is off-handed, often short-tempered and rude to Eliza and generally everybody except Pickering. Shane Carty plays Higgins with confidence, perhaps a touch of arrogance and a simmering irritation at most things.  Higgins doesn’t care about anybody’s feelings and is a man who does not quite fit in to ordinary society. But there are clues that Higgins does have feelings and certainly for Eliza.  Carty is able to pop off those bon-mots about how he treats everybody the same—badly. He behaves badly when he’s crossed or challenged.  He’s a fascinating character and Shane Carty brings that out.

Pickering does care about everybody in the kindest way.  It’s not the first time in his plays that Shaw has said that the most important aspect of an interaction between characters is kindness.

Colonel Pickering (David John Phillips) is Higgins’ partner in this endeavor and the person who made the wager. Pickering treats Eliza with the utmost respect and courtesy and in a way taught her the manners she develops in the play. David John Phillips as Pickering is courtly, gracious and gentlemanly to all he meets, especially Eliza.

A lovely surprise is newcomer Siobhan O’Malley as Eliza Doolittle.  She is feisty without being screechy, a woman of character with plenty of pluck. As the transformed Eliza, O’Malley is poised, confident and able to spar with Higgins on his level.

I look forward to seeing more work from her.

Henry Higgins’ mother Mrs. Higgins as played by Tracy Ferencz has style, class and consideration, qualities that have not been passed on to her disagreeable son. Ferencz also plays Mrs. Pearce the no-nonsense housekeeper with a sweet conscience.

Director Jeannette Lambermont-Morey has done a lovely, smart job of directing this with clarity and imagination.  It’s a delicate dance establishing the prickly relationship between Higgins and Eliza, and the kind, respectful relationship between Pickering and Eliza but Lambermont-Morey does it beautifully. She uses the space well, solves the tricky ending of the play and gets strong performances from her cast.  So while this is a fine production in this idyllic setting but I have a few concerns.

Janet Heise is the producer for this show and before she told us to turn off our cell-phones she gave us about a 10 minute history of the park and the Grecian pillars. That history lesson should be cut.  Save it for a tour or a note in the program but giving this speech before a play we are to see is deadly to the whole enterprise.

Also, Director Jeannette Lambermont-Morey and her hard working musical director Micaela Morey have a trio of singers who play roles in the play. Collectively they are called “Eynsford Hill”, and sing four songs before the production, beginning with “Scarborough Fair” as a tip of the hat to Scarborough, where the play is taking place. Perhaps the songs are to get us in the mood for the play.

This is a mistake. We don’t need music to get us in the mood. The play does that. These songs only stop things in their tracks along with the history lesson. And “Eynsford Hill” also provides musical sound effects during some scenes. It’s distracting.  All the music should be cut.  We don’t need to be put in the mood with music. The songs only delay the proceedings. Other than that, I was glad I drove to Scarborough to see this production.

Guild Festival Theatre presents:

Began: July 11, 2018.

Closes: August 12, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes  (approx)

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