Stratford Festival’s “Antony and Cleopatra”

August 24th promised my first viewing of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra at the Stratford Festival. For me, this play was very interesting; because I had never studied it, but had read it, I knew what to expect but not in my usual academic way, however it’s always infinitely better to see a play than to simply read it. It was kind of nice, because I got to relax and go on the journey with the characters and immerse myself in the story.

This play is beautiful. It was beautiful to watch and beautiful to listen to. The way that Shakespeare wrote this play was absolutely beautiful; especially some of Enobarbus’ and Antony’s speeches are like music to the ears. However, this is one of those Shakespearean plays where if you miss a line, you miss a lot! While you can keep up, there are so many nuances in the beautiful poetry that it is easy to become slightly lost in what is happening, especially when the characters begin to turn on one another and it’s like you’ve missed the one word that’s seemed to set them off!

The set had such beautiful simplicity, and I just loved the way they were able to seamlessly show the difference between Egypt and Rome. (However it did make me think, in Shakespeare’s day, at the Globe, where there was little to no set at all, how on Earth did those people keep up? Not because I think they weren’t capable of it, but because the show itself flips between locations so frequently that even I got confused a few times!) The costumes were stunning, especially the ones for the Egyptian women. While they were a little risqué, they were gold and luscious and fitting for the queen of Egypt. And the togas and armour for the men were fabulous!

I felt that the three main leads, Geraint Wynn Davies as Antony, Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra and Tom McCamus as Enobarbus, did a fabulous job. And they were in very good company. Ben Carlson was a fabulous Octavious Caesar and there was a host of other fantastic characters who made the play so enjoyable. They truly brought these legendary historical figures to life and made them feel so real. They made this very political and very complicated play into what felt like real life. I give it a huge BRAVO all around!

The only odd thing about this show is that I felt like I didn’t really relate to anyone, or feel bad for anyone. Shakespeare shows the flaws of all of these great historical people so that by the end, while you’re sad that Antony and Cleopatra die, you also know that it’s history, so it’s not like the ending is really a surprise. You’re sad because it seems preventable, like Romeo and Juliet, where a little communication is all that’s needed to make things right again. And yet you’re certainly not as sad as when those young lovers take their own lives. I think I pitied Enobarbus the worst, because he was always just trying to do the right thing by Antony, and made the wrong decisions along the way, and yet even he was shown to be somewhat scandalous. So it was less emotional than some of the other plays, it was still an interesting experience.

There are only three performances left to see this great Shakespearean play! Make sure you get to see it!

http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24524&prodid=52422

Stratford Festival’s “King Lear”

For this post I’m going to start off by saying this will likely be filled with spoilers about Stratford’s AMAZING production of King Lear starring the incomparable Colm Feore, which I had the absolute pleasure of witnessing on August 23rd. For me, this production was so fascinating and wonderful, that I just can’t keep cooped up all of the ideas and inspiration that came from seeing this show.


First of all, there was the theatre itself. It was freezing cold. I know that the theatres are usually cold for most people, but normally, I’m comfortable. But this was just downright frigid. It was marvellous, because as the storm got worse and as King Lear himself moves outside, it got even colder! It was immersive in a totally different way than expected. To feel and hear the storm along with King Lear makes us suffer with him, makes us understand what he’s feeling.

Having studied this play rather in depth, there were a few things that I was specifically looking for when I was watching the play. The first was King Lear’s entrance. There are two different versions of the play (the quarto and folio) and in one King Lear enters with his crown on and in the other he already has his crown off. While this seems like a subtle difference, it totally shapes how Lear is viewed. In this production, there is no sign of King Lear’s crown, and yet all three of his daughters have circlets on. It shows that Lear’s power has really transferred more to them than resides in Lear. But then, when he banishes Cordelia, he takes off her circlet, and brandishes it as he sends her away, thus temporarily taking back the power he had given Cordelia and using it against her. Now, whether this shows that Lear is mad right from the get go, or that he had just given up on controlling his daughters and his kingdom is totally up to personal interpretation. However, with the way the rest of the play follows, and the theme of madness highlighting the season, I would argue the former.

On a side note, I found that having the all three daughters be young made the play very different to watch. We usually get a very Cinderella like feel from this play, like Goneril and Reagan are so much older and like the ugly stepsisters, and then Cordelia is the sweet, pretty youngest daughter. However with Liisa Repo-Martell, Maev Beaty and Sara Farb all looking around the same age, we instead watch these three sisters compete for their father’s love and then have to deal with his senility and odd behaviour afterwards. I found that because they seemed less like hags, you could feel a little bit more pity for them than what I have seen and felt otherwise. While this certainly doesn’t excuse the actions that Goneril and especially Reagan take against their father, there are other times when the two of them are talking that you understand their frustration with their father a little more.

The other thing I look for is Cordelia’s entrance. Like Lear’s there are small variations between the quarto and folio editions, and yet they do make quite a difference in how we see Cordelia’s re-emergence into her English home. In one version Cordelia enters alone, and in the other she enters with soldiers and drums and trumpets to announce her coming. If she enters with the soldiers and the pomp, it shows that Cordelia has changed, she has become part of the French people who are fighting against the English and her return is triumphant. However if she comes in alone, she looks almost like a refugee, almost like her father who himself is wandering alone. What I found interesting about this production is that it had a little bit of both: there were two soldiers, but none of the triumphant pomp that is a possibility. It makes sense that she would have a small entourage as it would be dangerous for a woman to be entering such a hostile land alone. I think this balance shows the balance of Cordelia herself, that while she has done well for herself in France, she does in a way belong with her family.

Ok, let’s get back to this production itself. One of the first things that I noticed and that I loved was the presence of the Bedlam Beggars. They enter before the play begins and we watch as they attempt to survive the storm that we can hear brewing in the distance. These ‘madmen’ punctuate the play, linking the madness within the court to the madness outside its walls that will later be exploited by Edgar. They really ground the play, the make it feel more like this can happen to anyone rather than just this King, this Aristotelean “great man.” The face that Edgar is invited to go with them at the end, but chooses not to is rather significant as well, it’s like he could have chosen not to be king, not to fulfill the charge that has been laid on him, but to continue to live his life as Poor Tom. It’s fascinating.

Speaking of Poor Tom/Edgar, I thought Evan Buliung was fabulous. I had heard Antoni Cimolino (the amazing director of this beautiful piece of theatre) talk about how he wanted Edgar to come off and how he saw him compared to the generic view of this play, and I thought Evan pulled it off beautifully. While we don’t pity Edgar as much as some other characters (he comes off as a womanizer and a drunk like his father Gloucester) when he is Poor Tom and we watch him grapple with some potentially very real demons, it’s very hard to not feel some sort of pity for him.

There is a scene just after the storm where Poor Tom/Edgar and King Lear first meet, and I thought that Cimolino portrayed it beautifully. When Lear looks into the eyes of this poor beggar he sees himself, and to show that they had two bright spotlights shine down on both of them, looking like a mirror. The questions he proceeds to ask Tom are heartbreaking; asking if his daughters betrayed him too, if that’s why he’s out in this awful storm is because of his ungrateful daughters. While many of the audience members laughed because it’s almost comical the way he fires the questions to rapidly and yet we know they’re about his experience, I wanted to cry. How devastating to watch this poor, old king seeing HIMSELF in this beggar man, in this tortured soul wandering the heath along with him. I found it interesting that while so many people seemed amused I was so crushed by the events, and yet once again it proves the beauty of theatre and the varying experiences one can have.

The storm itself was something to behold. The room is so full of smoke and fog and then out of nowhere comes the shadowy figure of Lear flashing with the lightning. It was stunning. I was petrified. I loved it. It’s something that almost can’t be described and needs to be experienced. And that’s truly what it was, was an experience. It had gotten so cold and the thunder and rain continued rolling through the theatre all during intermission, and you really felt like you were in the storm with King Lear and his fool (played ever so perfectly by Stephen Ouimette).

The other scene that is always worth a mention is the infamous eye plucking scene. I worked on this scene for my Shakespeare class in University, but boy did they ever outdo what I thought could be done with this scene. First of all though, I’d like to mention that Scott Wentworth, who plays Gloucester this season, also played the same role back in 2007 when I first saw Lear at the festival. So to have to watch this man get his eyes plucked out twice in a lifetime is a little bit much! He plays the role so fabulously however, and this time was so different than the last that I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I digress; the eye plucking was so wonderfully gory and awful that even I screamed! They actually threw a fake eye ball, not round and hard but icky and gushy and slimy onto the stage! It was so disgusting, but put the audience so firmly within the play that even the audience members furthest away reacted! It was simultaneously wonderful and petrifying all at once; it was exactly what that scene should be. It’s so horrible what Reagan and Cornwall think they can get away with, especially when they’re in Gloucester’s home! It’s so barbaric, but that shows us another side to madness: where we are willing to do awful animalistic acts just to get what we want or enact what we think is justice on those whom we deem deserve it.

Overall, this to me was a life changing play: I’ll never look at Lear the same way again, nor will I ever forget this particular production. Everyone was so fabulous, so well-cast (I haven’t even gotten to mention Johnathan Goad who played Kent and I LOVED him!), and just overall made it such a moving experience. I cried. I really, really did. Even though I knew what was going to happen, it didn’t matter. This cast, this production, made it so real that I felt so horrible I had to cry. When I told my best friend I cried, he asked me “who did you cry for?” and I told him “all of them, but not so much them, but for their situation. It’s heartbreaking.” To me, that makes it a great work of art, because we cry for all of them, not just one person, we cry because the whole situation just is just awful, and we wouldn’t wish it on anyone and yet we know it happens all the time (just maybe not to only kings). I loved this production more than I can express, and I’m so happy that it will be immortalized on film; it certainly deserves it.

For tickets, go to: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24119&prodid=52389

Stratford Festival’s “The Beaux’ Stratagem”

After four days of seeing deep, moving and affecting theatre, I was delighted to be going to see George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem on August 3rd. I studied Restoration theatre many times during my University career, so it was so exciting for me to have the opportunity to see something I’d studied but never seen before on my favourite stage.

Overall, I just felt like this play was a bundle of fun! It doesn’t totally come across on the page just how funny this play is, however once it is embodied, the audience can barely stop laughing! It was a wonderful example of a typical Restoration comedy, very funny, with just the right amount of naughtiness to it. The humour is totally transcendent, making us laugh just as hard today as it would have for Charles II’s audience. You really need to experience it for yourself, it’s totally worth it!

The sets and costumes are opulent and beautiful: a perfect match to the overflow of laughter in this play. It was amazing to watch the actors change the set from the dingy Inn to the beautiful house where Lady Bountiful and her children live. The contrast between the male, public space of the Inn (whose only female component is Cherry, whose father owns the Inn) and the female, private space (which is eventually invaded by males) of the parlour is very stark, but it accurately reflects Restoration society. I always love looking at the men’s clothes, Archer and Aimwell, as upper class men, were dressed so beautifully and of course the women’s dresses were downright gorgeous.

As usual the acting in this play did not disappoint. This play was well stocked with some of Stratford’s best actors and they were marvellous. They made me laugh, love, feel pity and happiness. The whole ensemble was wonderful, however Lucy Peacock, Colm Feore, Gordon S. Miller and Martha Henry stick out in my mind as being particularly fabulous. Evan Buluing’s French accent as Count Bellair nearly put everyone on the floor from laughing! I was honestly very impressed by everyone in this play, and it was cast so well, and really brought these characters to life in such a way that I felt so fortunate I was able to witness it.

I’m going to get into a little bit of analysis, so there might be some spoilers, therefore read on if you dare!

In and amongst this beautifully funny play, Farquhar discusses some very serious issues. The primary issue he deals with is companionate marriage. Squire and Mrs. Sullen are so called because they are unhappy in their marriage, and it comes to light later on in the play that their marriage was arranged rather than chosen. When Mrs. Sullen meets Archer, she finds her ideal man. Similarly, Dorrinda meets Aimwell, and thinks she has found her ideal man, even though she doesn’t know that he and Archer are not as well off as they would appear. These displays of true love eventually cause the Sullens to get a divorce, and Mrs. Sullen to be free to be courted by Archer. This would have been a hot topic amongst Farquhar’s audience as companionate marriage still wasn’t a widely accepted norm, however was starting to become popular. This of course comes with the notion of adultery, and the choices that Mrs. Sullen is forced to make when confronted with the opportunity to have true love. Several of her monologues talk about her sad marriage, and her desire for love, and once she meets Archer, they turn to thoughts of desire and what it would mean to leave her husband. However, she never breaks her marriage vows, and so while forced marriage is shown to be a negative thing, adultery is shown to not be the answer. It is amazing how many modern notions are coming from an 18th century play.

Then of course there are Archer and Aimwell themselves. Both of the men are not well off, but pose as a wealthy man and his valet to hopefully win themselves a wife. They’re almost like fops because they don’t have real professions and spend most of their time around women, and yet they aren’t given the same idiocy that someone like Sparkish in The Country Wife, from the same period. Yet it calls into question just how much these men are allowed to get away with and how much of a façade can they employ while still having the trust of the women they wish to woo.

If you wish to take in this fantastic piece of theatre, here’s the link for tickets: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24275&prodid=52396

Stratford Festival’s “King John”

August 2nd I was delighted to take in the Stratford Festival’s production of Shakespeare’s King John.  I was so excited to get to see John as it is not frequently done at the Festival, and with it being directed by Tony nominated director Tim Carroll I knew I was in for a real treat.

One of the main reasons that I enjoy Mr. Carroll’s productions so much is because he likes to use Original Practice for his plays. This goes for everything, from the costuming to the lighting to the way the actors say their lines; I absolutely love it. Another way the original practice really makes a mark on this play is the audience interaction. The bastard Phillip (played by Graham Abbey) has many soliloquies wherein he addresses the audience. During these, there is a great amount of participation with the audience (although I won’t say just what!). This is again a practice that Shakespeare’s audience would have been very familiar with that modern theatre can stray away from. Aside from the use of female actors, it’s just like seeing a Shakespearean play as his audience would have seen it. For a purist like me, it’s an amazing experience, and I find that I can focus on the story more than wondering what the director is trying to do with the play, which is especially helpful with a play like King John that I haven’t seen before.

I found that this plot line was very easy to follow, so I’d definitely recommend it for people who aren’t very familiar with the Bard’s work (as well as the Shakespeare lovers like me, of course!). It’s funny, because while there is death in the play, it doesn’t really come off as a tragedy. I think because it is historically based, the events seem inevitable and therefore doesn’t elicit the same kind of catharsis that something like King Lear or Hamlet does. That being said, it is a fabulous play that really takes you on an adventure with King John and the turmoil of his kingdom.

The issue of death is dealt with in two very interesting ways (however I will try not to spoil them too badly). The death of Arthur, the young heir to the throne, was dealt with in a very interesting manner. His cause of death (I shan’t say how) is very difficult to stage, and yet I thought that Carroll and the cast staged it beautifully. However the death of King John himself is so symbolic and beautiful. The moment he relinquishes his crown, his head slumps and you know that it’s the end of not only his reign, but himself. Like King Lear, without his kingdom he has lost all sense of self to the point of death.

The issue of madness is quite interesting in this play. While it does not occupy the central theme of the play, some of the best speeches from the play are spoken by the characters in the height of their madness. There are two examples of madness in the play and they come about very different ways. Constance’s madness sprouts directly from the death of her son Arthur. Her madness takes hold quickly and seems to affect her completely. Seana McKenna portrays her so well, and especially this scene blew me away. To watch her come out with her hair undone and sputtering this speech about her son was heartbreaking, especially because she denies it so wholeheartedly. Likewise, Tom McCamus’ portrayal of King John was wonderful. Everything from his voice to his mannerisms was totally John and not himself at all. His madness was a slower descent, and it is revealed that he believes there was poison involved. However there are times when he seems aware that his mind is slipping, and doesn’t seem himself, and those moments make his death very difficult to watch.

The acting overall was impressive, and when there are no large sets and traditional costumes, the play relies on the strength of the actors and they certainly did not fail this text. They made it such a pleasure to watch and experience. I was very happy that this was the way I saw this play first; I have a feeling that other productions will likely pale in comparison to the sheer beauty and simplicity of this play.

If you would like to buy tickets, here’s the link! : http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24494&prodid=52421