Stratford Festival’s “Breath of Kings: Rebellion and Redemption”

When the news came out that Graham Abbey had been working on an adaptation of four of Shakespeare’s history plays, and that they were going to modify the Tom Patterson Theatre especially for the production, I was thrilled. There’s nothing more exciting than getting to see a brand new piece and in a totally different way than it would normally be staged. Breath of Kings exceeded my expectations and gave me a totally different view of Shakespeare’s histories; it made me want to see the full versions immediately!

Breath of Kings: Rebellion tells the story of Henry Bolingbroke and his rise to power over King Richard II, using the plays Richard II for its first act and Henry V Part 1 for its second act. A political thriller for the first act turns into a bloody battle for supremacy by the second, making for an amazing buildup to the final battle. Breath of Kings: Redemption focuses more on young Henry, or Prince Hal, and his rise to power through Henry V Part II and Henry V. Once again culminating in an epic battle, this piece was fascinating and fast paced as young Hal goes from miscreant to King overnight.

The most immediate thing that struck me was the stage. Not only was it redesigned to be theatre in the round (which I LOVE) but for Rebellion there was a thick layer of mulch covering the stage. This mulch would be pushed, dragged, and raked all over the stage. I loved how when the play needed to take place indoors the mulch was pushed aside with the boxes to create a hallway-like path. But for me the best part was after the battle scene, the mulch had been spread back out over the stage, so there was this amazing map of the battle left on the floor after the actors had left, I can only imagine how incredible it must have looked from above. For Redemption, the stage was the bare white that you could see underneath the mulch, but as the battle of Agincourt was waged, the floor came up in these massive, jagged pieces which left the earth turned up and ragged by the end of the play; a torn world which Hal will be responsible to put back together. Paired with amazing costuming and lighting, the play was a visual spectacular and every detail and movement carried such weight and purpose.

The cast was massive, with a whole host of Stratford’s best populating the stage. Helmed by Graham Abbey (Henry IV), Tom Rooney (Richard II), and Araya Mengesha (Henry V) the level of passion in these performances breathes such life into these pieces and makes them the memorable experience that they are. Richard II was such a fascinating character, the way we watch him succumb to Bolingbroke and his men, then seeing Bolingbroke, who used to wield amazing power, get so ill was heartbreaking. The whole time you’re watching their enemies try to rise against them, while others rally to their side. I had previously seen Henry V in full, and so knew of the death of Falstaff, but what I hadn’t realized was that he died of a broken heart; it broke my heart to see Hal cast off his old friends, miscreants though they may be, in favour of being the “king” he thinks he has to be. He rejects their company almost immediately instead of helping them as he’s now able to do. This deeply saddened me, and actually made me watch the second act of Redemption with a totally different gaze than I had when I saw Henry V. I was also thrilled that the Chorus in Henry V was kept, the Chorus has some of the most beautiful poetry in Shakespeare’s cannon, and the play would have felt incomplete without it.

One of the elements that was particularly interesting was how many men were portrayed by women. It brought the dynamic to a totally different level to both pieces, and seeing these women in power roles was inspiring. It confirmed the level of innovation and expertise that was poured into this show and made it an experience I’ll never forget.

I was absolutely blown away by this production. I cannot begin to recommend it enough. The plays close September 24th, so catch it before it closes!!

Stratford Festival’s “John Gabriel Borkman”

I had been greatly anticipating this show since it’s announcement. I was excited to see a new Ibsen play which I new nothing about and which starred so many of my favourite actors at the festival.  John Gabriel Borkman surpassed any and all expectations I had for the show, presenting an intriguing story beautifully told by its actors and designers.

John Gabriel Borkman is one of those shows which you carry with you once you leave, which is something that I love about theatre. You leave feeling like you’ve been affected by this piece.  It’s rather incredible really, because it is an odd premise, but it’s presented in such a way that I left the theatre mulling it over in my mind for hours.

The story itself is interesting, about a Bank Manager who looses everything and we watch how it affects his family dynamic long after the event has actually occurred. The tension between family members is palpable, and it makes for a riveting story as detail after detail is revealed about their past an how that has come to affect their present. The events of the play were eerily similar to modern cases such as that of Bernie Madoff, making the play far more relatable to our modern audiences than Ibsen could have ever anticipated. At the same time it always is a little unsettling when you see a play written 120 years ago and can find the same behaviour in the world around you; an amazing situation of how life can imitate art.

The stage and set where so whitewashed, and then when the characters enter in their jet black costumes, they seem so foreign in their environment. For me, their dark ensembles truly embodied the pain and suffering that they were enduring. From the black lace of a widow, to draping black velvet, their costumes outwardly displayed their inner torment in such a beautifully visual manner. Especially when juxtaposed against the crisp white of Frida’s dress or the light purple of Mrs. Wilton’s ensemble, all of which plays against the white stage and the snow that tumbles from the sky at the play’s end; it’s a visually stunning show which left me breathless.

Another breathless moment occurred right at the beginning of the play, as twin sisters Mrs. Borkman (Lucy Peacock) and Miss Rentheim (Seana McKenna) first see each other after years of not speaking. When Seana enters the stage, there is this amazing moment where they just stare at one another, taking each other in after so many years apart, and it’s like the theatre collectively held their breath until one of them spoke. Seana and Lucy are such incredible foils for one another in whatever show they are in, but this one was particularly impressive. The way that they are able to play off of one another and the struggle between the two which only gets deeper the more we discover about their pasts made the piece riveting. You become so invested in their lives and why they don’t get along any more and it truly makes you feel deeply for them, especially once you realize that they’ve both been hurt by the same man: John Gabriel Borkman. While I don’t want to give away the juiciest of details, it’s amazing to see how one man in his quest for greatness is able to destroy everything and everyone around him. Scott Wentworth did a phenomenal job portraying the tortured Borkman, whose dream of wealth and glory still haunts him after so many years of his scandal haunting his own family. While you want to hate him for what he’s put his family through, there’s something sympathetic in his desire for something greater than himself and wanting to be able to pick back up once he’s been knocked down. The three leads were perfectly cast, and to watch them all play so well off of one another was truly a pleasure; it’s like watching an All Star game, where the best of the best get to play together and the audience watches in awe of them.

Something that really strikes me is how the play bears the name of John Gabriel Borkman, and while the story is about how his decisions have affected all of the people around him, it’s truly the women who drive the play. It’s Mrs. Borkman’s need for her son to make something of the Borkman name again which drives young Erhart away, but it’s also Miss Rentheim’s total denial of Borkman’s dreams has more power than I think even she realized she could wield over him. Erhart (Antoine Yared) thinks that running off with Mrs. Wilton (Sarah Afful) and Frida (Grace Eddleston) will give him a new life, yet he’s still under the influence of a woman and her desires. In the end, it’s the reconciliation of the sisters which provides a true sense of satisfaction and closure to the piece. It was truly a marvel, one which I will not soon forget.

There’s only one week left of performances of this stunning show! It closes Sept. 23rd, so don’t miss out on your chance to take in this amazing work.

Stratford Festival’s “As You Like It”

I was so happy to take two of my dearest friends to Stratford for their first time to see As You Like It back in June. We had been planning the trip since last December, so we’d been counting down the months and weeks until we finally got to go! The show was well worth the wait, and was way beyond expectations.

The setting for the show was wonderfully done; from the costumes to the hair, they didn’t miss a beat at making sure we knew it was the 80’s! Setting it in the East Coast made it even more fun. It really helped with the inclusive feel of the show (more on that to come) and gave a whole different kind of energy and life into the performance. The singing and dancing was infectious! We couldn’t stop smiling and danced all the way to the car. The set itself was beautifully simplistic and malleable, making each location distinct and lovely; the Forest of Arden being the most beautiful of all.

As I mentioned earlier, the show asks for full audience participation, and what a joy it is to do so! Upon entering the audience is asked to take a small bag with several items inside (most of which you get to take home!) and you are given instructions by Hymen herself (played by Robin Hutton) as to what props to use when. It was great fun and made for lots of laughs. One of my favourite moments happened in the second scene of the play, as Celia (Trish Lindström) is trying to comfort her saddened Rosalind (Petrina Bromley), Celia takes away the tub of ice cream that Rosalind has been devouring, and offers it up to an audience member. “Sure! I’d love some!” I said, and next thing I knew I had a tub of ice cream with a scoop or two of vanilla left in the bottom. With a thumbs up from Celia I figured I’d likely not get an opportunity like this again, so I enjoyed the rest of the ice cream throughout the next scene. What a treat! We laughed about it all through dinner! We loved getting to be trees in the Forrest, waves in the sea, and a lush meadow fit for a wedding. If you love to feel like a part of the show, you’ll love this production!

Aside from the setting, Jillian Keiley made another fascinating choice which I really enjoyed seeing played out: the Duke and Jaques were both women in this production. It was a very interesting contrast to the usually male dominated sphere of the Forrest. The Duchess Senior (Brigit Wilson) is surrounded by her people, and is therefore more safe than Rosalind and Celia would be on their own. But Jaques’ character is even more layered in this production, and made her even more interesting.

Jaques was portrayed by Seana McKenna, who outdid herself once again with this role. Hearing her say one of the most famous speeches in the Shakespearean Cannon (“All the world’s a stage…”) was even better than I had imagined. What fascinated me most was Jaques’ position as a voyeur, and how that was manifested in this play. It is frequently mentioned how melancholy Jaques watches the world go by, commenting on things as (s)he goes, however in this production, the voyeurism goes to the extent of Jaques having cameras and notepads, ways of recording what (s)he sees. The notion that (s)he was, in the court at least, some kind of reporter makes total sense, and also explains some of the melancholy that (s)he finds in the world. It was brilliant!

These are truly just some of the highlights of what will always be a memorable show to me. The whole thing created such a perfect image of what this play can do, and where Shakespeare’s words can take us, it’s well worth seeing. Bring the family and go on a theatrical adventure! I truly can’t recommend this show enough! For ticket information, visit http://www.stratfordfestival.ca

The Grand Theatre “Shrek the Musical”

My friend Joseph and I decided to take a last minute theatre journey up to London on January 2nd to go and see a few of our friends in Shrek the Musical just before it closed. It was quite the experience and the show was adorably wonderful.

So amazingly enough, we got to sit in the front row despite having only gotten rush seats, and that was definitely a great choice. This was a play that was just too much fun to not be in the middle of!

The sets were wonderfully fanciful, and I especially loved the story book that the characters could walk right through. The costumes were likewise whimsical and very much akin to what was seen in the movie that the musical is based on. I liked that they added in some new characters and/or gave more recognition to characters that were only minor parts in the movie, like the Wicked Witch or the Sugar Plum Fairy. However the Dragon’s costume was hands down the most impressive. The dragon itself was a giant puppet divided into 6 pieces that weren’t actually attached. Therefore it forced the actors to keep very close together and be very in sync to give the illusion of a whole dragon. The voice of the Dragon (in our case Ayrin Mackie) was then dressed in a fabulous sparkly/scaly dress whose colour was the same as the dragon. It was amazing to watch and the children in the audience responded well to it.

The story itself stayed very true to the movie, including some dialogue direct from the movie, while also adding in several new musical numbers for the play. I was particularly happy that they left in a good deal of the dialogue, it made the play recognizable for the children (and the young at heart) but it didn’t make you feel like you were just seeing the same thing either.

The acting was superb, and a great job was done by all. It would take me forever to mention all of the people involved in this show, but who I do want to point out are the young ladies who played the two young version of Fiona. They had very difficult roles in terms of playing not only Fiona but then other of the forest creatures. They performed well both vocally and dramatically, and Joseph and I were very impressed. I can say rather confidently that if either of those girls wants a career in acting, they will have no problem at all making that happen.

Overall, it was a wonderful family show. I heard just as much laughter from the adults in the room as the children. I was very happy that Joseph had asked me to go as it wound up being a wonderful adventure.

Tarragon Theatre’s “Sextet”

I know that this post is a long time coming. I actually saw this show at the beginning of December and unfortunately it’s no longer on. However, I still wanted to share my thoughts about the show, because it was just that good. Enjoy!


For me, there is nothing better than being able to see a brand new play. There’s something exhilarating about knowing that there are just a handful of people who have seen this play before you have, and that hopefully you’ll be able to follow the success of such a marvellous play in years to come. That’s how I felt after seeing Sextet by Morris Panych at the Tarragon Theatre this past weekend. This was our first time at Tarragon, and I must say I was rather impressed with the whole experience.

Immediately upon arrival in the theatre, the set captivates you. These six tiny rooms, with their tiny beds (and all matching to boot!) must have been quite the feat for the set designer. Because of the many doors and rooms, the play was able to have this wonderfully farcical feel which kept the pace high in and amongst the stories of the lives of these musicians. However, one of the most amusing details about the set is that none of the times on the clocks matched! It was funny, and as most travellers know, very true. Once the characters come and invade this space, you see how much their personalities stand out against the bland backdrop. Because of the sameness of the rooms, and yet the inability to tell where they are or what time it is paired with their inability to leave the motel, it made the play almost absurd in nature. I really liked that element, because it gave us more of a chance to focus on the people and their current situations, which makes you so much more connected to them.

That was one of the easiest and best things about Sextet: the characters and coming to love them. We realize through many soliloquies and scenes of quick dialogue how all of these unique individuals can come together and play, and yet why they don’t always get along. The discussion of sexuality and how it was dealt with I found refreshing and endearing. We feel for the main character, Harry, as he takes us on this journey of self-discovery. It also makes for some very funny and awkward moments in the play, and the dialogue is so witty that it made a subject that can be taboo to something that was natural and amusing.

Honestly, it was such a pleasure getting to see this play. It was full of familiar faces who I adore who took me on a fantastic personal journey. I related so much to the one character, and it was amazing to see how things would up for her. I just can’t even seem to put to words all the amazing things that I felt about this play, and I wish it was still on so everyone could enjoy it!

University Player’s “Blood Relations”

The University Player’s production of Blood Relations is a perfect play for this time of year. It’s spooky, thrilling and a perfect Hallowe’en treat! I saw the show with a friend of mine on October 30th, and we both had nightmares that night about people with axes! While it’s not gory at all, it’s like an Alfred Hitchcock movie; it’s not scary at the time, just later, when the lights are off and you’re all alone.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the theatre was the set. I loved all of the articles about the real Lizzie Borden that created the centerpiece of the set. It was amazing, and really made it hit home that this story was based on real events. And it helped to show the difference between the parlour and the dining room. But I loved the staircase and the couch, everything was so beautiful, and the fact that everything was black made the paper stand out all the more. The same can be said for the costumes. First of all, they were stunning. However what was interesting was the characters who wore white. It was only the real Lizzie Borden and her sister Emma who wore any hint of white, along with their Uncle, other than that everyone else was in black. I found it fascinating! Agatha Knelsen and David Court are a dream team, and the University is definitely lucky to have them!

The story itself was fascinating, with a fabulous frame narrative that makes the ending totally mind blowing (I won’t spoil, I promise). However the story would not have been nearly as entertaining if it hadn’t been acted so well. Vanessa Lancione and Breanna Maloney were particularly impressive. These two women shared the role of Lizzie Borden, and yet neither of them was off the stage for very long if at all. The amount of text and characters that they had to know for this play was amazing; their physicality was awesome, and they were truly wonderful. However this was definitely a big ensemble piece and the rest of the cast should not go without mention. Andrew Iles, Tamlynn Bryson, Duncan Rowe, Hayley Joy and Joseph Zita were all marvellous, some of them also having to inhabit multiple characters. But truly, the whole cast so expertly brought these people to life, making us try to understand the mind of the killer, and simultaneously make us feel bad for the poor woman who was driven to such desperate action.

One thing that I found particularly interesting that I wanted to analyze a little more deeply was the space itself. It’s very interesting to be in a very small theatre like the Studio for this show. The space makes a great difference in how we as the audience feel depending on the type of play. If the play is a comedy, then the audience very much so feels a part of the play, as the actors are apt to move through the audience and it feels like a very inclusive event, which is the overall goal of comedy. However, with tragedy or with a tense drama like Blood Relations, the small space has a very different effect. For me, I felt like I was trapped, especially during the second act when you know what Lizzie is going to do. With the space so small, you realize that the action of the play is merely feet away from you, which is fun…except for when someone is murdering someone else. Suddenly you realize there’s nowhere else to go, you must stay there and watch what happens, and there is not an easy way to distance yourself by saying “oh, but that’s up there, on stage, not here” when ‘here’ is only a few feet away from ‘there’.  Therefore I felt that this space worked so well for this play, and it certainly had the desired effect on me and my friend. I’ll never look at an axe the same way again!

There is still this weekend and one more weekend to catch this terrifying thriller! You can call the Box Office at 519-253-3000 x. 2808 or you can order tickets online at http://www.uwindsor.ca/universityplayers/61/box-office

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