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Stratford Nonreviews.

June 10, 2010

Yeah, I’ve been quiet.

Sneakyquiet, perhaps?

No, not really.  I’ve barely even been working.

There’s this thing I’ve seen Tony Kushner quoted as saying in multiple interviews (and I’m pretty sure he was quotatin’ somebody else), that creative people should only expose themselves to Shakespeare once a year, because it will drive them into a profound despair and ultimately destroy them or some’at.  I don’t actually feel like that’s the case with me, but I was definitely down for the count this week, and come to think of it did kind of go crazy more than usual that year I had Shakespeare courses in both semesters but WHATEVER the point is I have been in suckmode but now I’m going to tell you some things I have been mulling over about the plays I saw in Stratford.

A couple of things to bear in mind while you read:

1. These are not reviews.  Actually they kind of are, but I dislike the whole principle of reviewing, so they aren’t, okay?

2. I was there during previews, so some shows were doubtless more like themselves already than others.  So if I am kind of mean about anybody’s performance, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have totally killed my face with excellence had I popped in a little later on in the season.

3. I didn’t choose these four shows of my own accord.  I was with a mixed-ages group of folks from the Perth Academy of Musical Theatre, where I am an occasional staff member/volunteer.  Not that I wouldn’t have made many of the same choices had I been in a position to choose, but don’t look at these titles and be like, “oh these must be exactly the plays Emmet gets most excited about personally,” because one of the things I’ve always liked about playing/working at PAMT is that I end up deeply involved in shows that have little to do with my own brain’s pre-existing priorities.

4. I am going to spoil shit here.  So BE AWARE if that’s something you don’t want.  In fact, I probably advise against reading these if there’s any chance you’re actually going to see these plays, but what do I know?


The Winter’s Tale

We jumped into this play pretty much right off of our long-ass bus ride, many of us (myself included) operating on sub-optimal quantities of sleep, and here are some feelings I felt:

“Oh shoot best Shakespeare ever maybe seriously how did I forget JUST HOW GREAT?”

“Can everybody I know please start dressing more like these shepherds pleasethanks omigosh.”

“Best child actor ever oh shoot he is going to die isn’t he?  Ah fuck.”

“Thanks for the whole bear thing, Shakespeare.  It’s a fun problem to solve and oh wow that’s pretty friggin’ spectacular.”

“Can we maybe do something so that when we are having conversations it comes out sounding like Shakespeare wrote them sometimes?”

“Aah long thrust long thrust this is so amazing can we have more theatres like this please aaah I have never been so pleased by anything that took place inside a skating rink in my life omigosh.”


Anyhow.  Yeah.  The Winter’s Tale is happening at the Tom Patterson, which is in fact a rink converted to a friggin’ amazing theatre for the duration of the festival.  It.  Is.  Awesome.  Basically, it’s a big rectangle with audience on two of the long sides and one of the short sides.  I was seated in the 2nd row along towards the back end of one of the long sides, and it was a good place to be.  There was often a lot of stuff going on at once on the stage, and I was impressed at how this managed to feel very organic — just courtiers being sociable at court or shepherds frolicking in the pastures — while still being very tightly controlled and focused, so that the extraneous activity was always contributing to, rather than distracting from the scripted elements.

Also, costumes: SO SHINY.  Shepherds in particular but also the Bohemian nobility.  More guys in colourful robe things IRL ASAP, SVP?


Overall, this was definitely my most intimate experience at the festival.  Like, ever.  I don’t necessarily think theatre has to be intimate to be wonderful, but this was wonderful in its intimacy.

The only thing I was maybe not so big on was the airborne spinning father time guy.  Shrug.  I was just really digging the whole I-am-in-this-space-with-these-people-having-these-experiences thing, and then there’s this guy on a big fancy crane and it’s very impressive and woooo and kind of takes me out of it.  I do think there’s something that’s kind of inherently cheesy (at least to my generation/me) about having somebody speak for Time no matter how eloquently they do so.  Not that cheesiness itself is inherently bad, but I dunno I guess this just felt like a misguided contribution to an oops-actually-we’re-all-vegan potluck or some’at.  Again I say: shrug.  It was one moment and then everything went straight back to awesome and then some for the second act.



I’m cruelly tempted to give this one a 2-letter response: “Eh.”

But that’s not helpful, so, okay: there are a lot of pretty individual factors that almost certainly contributed to my not feeling this one so much.

a) I was still sleep-deprived, only more so, because this was several hours after the previous show, plus we were seated in the balcony of the Avon, which is a fine place to be, but does permit a certain amount of outzoning you just don’t have access to when Yanna McIntosh is breaking your heart within spitting distance.

b) After the Tom Patterson staging experience, I was probably overly cranky about being told where to put my eyeballs.  There was the ordinary proscenium factor, and there was also extensive use of this sectioned screen thing that created very specific sightlines and whatnot.  I don’t know what the technical name for that thing is, but I might be prepared to make at least a casual stance Against it.  See, I’m actually very into controlfreakiness in theatre (and other art, but let’s not get too big about this), largely because I think it opens up a lot of interesting questions about where one loses control anyways and what happens to the art because of that inevitability, and it seems like not playing fair to put a whole bunch of technology in the way of those sneaky small experiences that audience members can have all on their own when they’re watching something in a room with hundreds of people which I happen to be in favour of but whatever I don’t think I’m about to direct/design a professional production of Evita any time soon am I now?

c) My first experience with Evita happened to be an Orion production — not so big, not so glam, very personal.  It worked for me.  Maybe I just didn’t want/need another one.

If anybody has nicer things to say about this production, I would f’reals love to hear them.  I know there were aspects I enjoyed, I just don’t know how to articulate the good stuff, aside from: yeah, I do dig sequins and flashyflash in the service of a good story, and this was that fasure.  Honestly, it’s all about how distracting I find the knowledge that they’re not allowing me to be distracted.  Maybe you’re better with that stuff than I am.

As You Like It

I watched this show nestled in a row of six girls ages 10-13 who had just finished bringing their own rendition of it to the Academy stage the previous weekend.  This was unquestionably the best possible company to have for this event.  I am sorry that you will be unable to duplicate this part of my experience, BUT I SUSPECT THAT YOU WILL ENJOY SOME STUFF ABOUT IT ANYWAYS.

So yeah.  Having been so recently immersed in the text via the girls’ rehearsal process and performances, I wasn’t expecting this show to feel super-fresh.  Don’t get me wrong: I was excited, and I expected it to be good, but not juicy-chunk-of-watermelon-good.  More like old-book-smell-good.

So I’m pleased to report it was both.

As you might gather from the above link, this production has Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy set in France (which it was already) in the 1920s (which is new), with a focus on the artistic movements and political circumstances of that time and place.

To those who feel dubious about newer-dress productions of older-text shows: it’s not my mission to convert you, but this show should do it.

We got the opportunity to have a li’l 30-on-2 chat with actors Sean Arbuckle and Dalal Badr after the show, and Mr. Arbuckle (who has the same unlikely smile as our friend Adam Reid) said one of those obvious-but-totally-insightful things about it.  Essentially, that you need a reason for whatever you decide to put on stage.  You shouldn’t do Shakespeare in old-timey clothes just because it’s traditional any more than you should do it in bellbottoms just because it’s fun.  No production design releases you from the obligation to ensure that the ideas behind it are fully formed.

Which was definitely true in this case.  Things fit.  The lyrics Shakespeare wrote for this show make fantastic jazz songs (I desperately want a recording of the music from this show, omigosh pleasepleaseplease pleeeease), and it seems entirely natural that Rosalind would be a surrealist painter — like these are just stage directions we’re missing from the old text.

This production takes care of its affairs: it deals beautifully with the weirdness of Adam just not showing up again after the 2nd act, and gives a certain servant who looks to have an exposition-only role on the page a really solid and enriching follow-through.  Nothing is throw-away in this version of the story.  Even the wonky Hymen-god-of-marriage bit at the end actually WORKED here.  And I’m not a person who’s ever seen (or been in) that bit of this play and thought, “oh hey that works.”  But turns out all you gotta do is set up the right surrealist elements, craft the character relationships in such a way that everything that goes down in that scene is actually secretly inevitable, and then have a hella fantastic composer and band on that ‘wedlock hymn’ business.  Who knew?

So yeah.  That was satisfying.

Peter Pan

I don’t know how much I want to say about this one.  I know it sounds pretty ridiculous to be concerned about spoiling a story that everybody already knows inside and out, but a lot of things I really loved about this production were actually pretty friggin’ innovative, and I don’t want to just be talking about them because they were such THINGS and I can’t talk like seeing them happening.

I will say the following, however:

1. Nanaaaaaaa! is amazing.

2. They found a really good way of dealing with the racist shit.  It’s very well-executed and Neverlandy and goes so far beyond just being a political correctness band-aid, particularly in the way it gets woven into the…

3. Awesomesauce framing device.

Surprisingly, the only moment that left me feeling kind of ‘huh’ was when we applauded Tink back to life.  And I’m not faulting the production for that.  It’s just that as an audience, like I said, we know this story crazywell.  We know before we go in that we’re going to be called upon to save a fairy’s life in the 2nd act, and we know how it is done and we are HELLA PREPARED.  So when the time comes, we’re too quick.  It’s too easy.  We cheat ourselves out of being afraid that we will fail.  This is not a very usual conundrum, how to foster more audience hesitation, but I think it’s worth asking if we’re going to keep doing this Peter Pan thing (which I think we should).


Okay.  That’s enough out of me.  What have you seen recently?  Or did you see the same stuff I saw and FEEL DIFFERENTLY about it?  Do tell.

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