I was so excited to get to see the second preview of this wonderful new play on July 31st. This moving piece was the first of 5 that I saw over that week, and it was an exquisite way to start off my trip.
The story is based on the life of Christina, the Queen of Sweden. She became a Queen young in life, and wanted her country to be the most sophisticated country in the world. Throughout the play we watch as pressures from those in her court, her own family, and her own desire to discover herself, drive her in a direction that even she could not have anticipated.
I really enjoyed the fact that this play takes place just after Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in a totally different country, making it at once familiar and foreign. Of course, because the play is based on an actual Queen, the story already has it’s time and place, and yet there are several other visual factors that add to the play itself. The costumes were very Elizabethan, with large ruffs and strings of pearls. However the presence of René Descartes as one of the driving influences in Christina’s life firmly places the story in history for a modern audience who would be familiar with his most famous phrase “I think, therefore I am.”
The fact that Christina and her family are Lutherans really heightens the stakes of the play. Her religion is one of those outside forces that make it difficult for Christina, not only to rule her country the way she wants, but also to truly be herself. While changing religions ultimately does not help Christina, it made her inner conflict all the more difficult and was a major leverage point for the people around her, creating several tense moments that were just as hard to watch as for Christina to have to endure.
While the whole cast was absolutely stellar, there are a few names that are worth highlighting:
Jenny Young, the actress who portrayed Christina was absolutely wonderful. This is her Stratford debut and I thought that she played this complex character expertly well. I found that she really made me pity her character, and want Christina to triumph over the constant pressures she was under.
Claire Lautier played Christina’s confidant, Duchess Ebba Sparre. I thought that she was also wonderful, a perfect match for Jenny. They balanced each other so well, and the chemistry they shared was palpable. Her character goes on an equally emotional journey throughout the play; however we are unfortunately not privy to her thoughts as we are at times to Christina’s. I was thrilled to see Claire return this season and she truly impressed me with this role.
Patricia Collins’ character Maria Elinora of Brandenburg (Christina’s mother) was just perfectly despicable, and she played it so well. Her character shows what a moral centre Christina provides, even though the other characters are not able to be open to her ideas. I thought she was very funny, and what her character divulges changed the course of the play in a way I had not anticipated.
The men of the cast presented a stark contrast to the women. Wayne Best as Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, Graham Abbey as Count Johan Oxenstierna, and Rylan Wilkie as Karl Gustav were all trying to force Christina to fit into the mold left by her father and that she as a monarch should have filled. In attempting to make her into their ideal, they eventually drive her away. However, John Kirkpatrick as René Descartes is the only man who allows Christina to explore herself and her world in a way that she did not think possible and does not force Christina to do anything; he merely gives her the tools to make her own choices. And yet what happens to him is less than pleasant because of this.
I felt that the play was exceptionally well written. It had the beauty and the power to match that of its main character. It made the play all the more enjoyable as it had the same poetic nature as a play of the time. I love that this play was commissioned by the Festival as well; it fit in so well with the ‘minds pushed to the edge’ theme and with the talents of the Festival as well.
I would highly recommend seeing this play. It truly moved me, and showed me how it does not matter who is involved in a love story, forbidden love is one of the hardest things for us to overcome, and when we cannot, it is the hardest thing to try and replace. I love getting to have a beautiful, moving theatre experience like this one; it reminds me why I love the theatre and how amazing seeing a new play can be!
Here’s where you can purchase tickets: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24554&prodid=52425