Friday 23 June 2017

Winter's Tale a chilling, warming snap on anger
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & 
those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  Regal jealousy that descends not unlike the onset, almost spontaneously, of a catatonic or schizoid fit. From charm and good cheer to extended bouts of rage, revenge, repulsion in an Augenblick as the Germans would say -- the blink of an eye. But finally through magic and Fate, reconciliation and restoration. Most academics lump this in as one of Shakespeare's romantic comedies. Others call it a "problem play" -- unresolved tragic elements of hubris leading to mayhem and death -- but overall a cheery outcome. 

Leontes (Kevin MacDonald) is King of Sicilia. His boyhood chum Polixenes (Ian Butcher) is King of Bohemia that WS conveniently fronts on the Adriatic to provide the play a shoreline with desert behind. Bohemia has been visiting Sicilia for nine months but is anxious to get back home. Sicilia entreats him to hang on another week. No go. So Sicilia asks his wife Hermione (Sereana Malani) to bid him stay. A coupla chipper & comely comments from her and Bohemia succumbs. He'll stay after all. Instantly Leontes rages : "Too hot! Too hot!" He flies into a frantic frenzy all because Polixenes denies his own offer of more hospitality but capitulates in a heartbeat to his wife's nudges. They must be canoodling and cuckholding him, Leontes immediately concludes. 

Shepherd (David M. Adams) and son Clown (Chris Cochrane) delight to find infant Perdita + a bag of gold.
Photo: David Blue  Image Design : Jason Keel
Thus is Leontes precisely positioned by WS to set all of his royal entrourage aflitter and aflight in his obsession : the hugely pregnant Hermione to prison; daughter born and left in the desert -- abandoned to the wolves and bears and ravens; Prince Mamillius (Parmiss Sehat) to die in grief at all the familial losses. It will be way down the line before bucolic, sensuous Bohemia reconciles with what Chamber of Commerce brochures call the classic, reasoned and civilized Greco-Roman enclave of Sicilia.

Plot twists & turns :  Shakespeare is well known for creating mad behaviour in his villains, normally among royalty or wannabe royalty. (Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth leap instantly to mind.) But what astonishes, quite, is the sustained vehemence and wanton rage attacks Leontes suffers from. Even when disabused of his reasons by Apollo's priestly oracle from Delphos whom he promised to abide by : "There is no truth at all i' the' oracle...This is mere falsehood," he spits contemptuously. He obviously had not learnt the ancient warning : "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad."

NYT critic Ben Brantley cleverly pointed out six months back that while Othello had the evil Iago to goad him on and inspire his murderous meltdown, Leontes "is his own undermining Iago". Hermiones' most favoured lady Paulina (Lois Anderson) labels him a tyrant for the deaths of his son the Prince and of Hermione, too, upon learning of Mamillius's passing. Only then does a spark of insight shine through Leonte's egotistical carapace : "Apollo's angry; and the heavens themselves / Do strike at my injustice."

Heidi Wilkinson & Frances Henry's puppet sheep are nearly as clever as the bear that ate Antigonus.
Photo : David Blue  Image Design : Jason Keel

From this point forward the play turns its eyes to the arcadian sheep pastures of Bohemia. Which turn starts, however, with a shipwreck followed by Antigonus being given the most-famous-of-all WS stage directions : Exit, chased by a bear. After this the stage action and dialogue become more lyrical, playful and sensuous.
Production values that shine through : As in years past, once again the magical music-making of Malcolm Dow is a treasure to hear. Electronic bass drone underneath, English handbells, chapel chimes, medieval chants, kazoo, baby's cries, &c. &c.

In sync were both the astonishing modernist masques for the choir, primarily, as well as a mix of rich tapestry silks for the royals and perfect lumpy burlap for the shepherd crowds by Carmen Alatorre.

Predictably, Vancouver movement-&-choreography wunderkind Tracey Power once again worked her stage magic. Good decision by Director Dean Paul Gibson to let her expand the chorus sequences as he did. The opening was sheer crisp delight to watch and hear.

Scenery designer Pam Johnson used five Ionic pillars to suggest the law-&-order conceit of Sicilia. They were moved about in various creative formations, then pushed right off stage altogether when Bohemia's sheep-shearing village scenes took over. 

All of this together produced a joy of sight and sound that enwrapped the action of the principals in a style that was all of crisp and grand and funky, too.

Acting pin-spots : Personally I am a huge fan of Shakespeare's women. I find their roles, generally, more compelling theatre than the villain men they play opposite. TWT in the end is Paulina's play, not Leontes' or Polixenes'. 

While Leontes decompensates into a psychotic fit, it is Paulina masterfully executed by Lois Anderson who has the play's best lines, no question. 

What better than this to her liege Leontes : "Thy tyranny / Together with thy jealousies / Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle / For girls of nine -- O think what they have done, / And then run mad indeed, stark mad : for all / Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it." My my my what stuff.

Lois Anderson as Paulina leads Perdita (Kaitlin Williams) and Chorus in triumphant cheer at play's end.Photo: David Blue  Image Design : Jason Keel
Anderson was matched by Laara Sadiq's interpretation of Camillo. Her execution was equally powerful stuff both in her anger and in her romantic heartedness toward the characters Leontes and Polixenes wished harm to.

Delightful turns by all on stage, but particular shout-outs to the three funnest characters across the night, David M. Adams as the old Shepherd (Perdita's foster dad) and Chris Cochrane as Clown, his son. Ben Elliott's Autolycus goof was sheer treat to watch, though Director Gibson still alas! seems unable to resist some farty stage business. Cheap sight gag that cheapens the show.

Who gonna like : Winter's Tale appeals in part because unlike Lear, kingly royal rage attacks in this case don't kill off the entire family, just one. The fun of what here is Act 2 -- the Bohemian sheep fluffery, the whimsical wizardous bear by creators Heidi Wilkinson & Frances Henry, the daffodil songs, the romance between "Doricles" (Adam Eckhart) and Perdita (Kaitlin Williams) -- oh such juicy wonderment all.

Taken together -- the casting, the acting, the sets, the music, the costumes, the choreography, the puppets -- this is about as big a bang for a Bard buck as I've seen on the mainstage in the five years I've been reviewing their shows. 

Want some Othello-lite mixed with a splash of the whimsy of Merry Wives? You can't go wrong here!

Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Christopher Gaze Artistic Director. At the BMO MainStage tent, Vanier Park. Performances : 40 shows between now and its September 22nd close. Schedule & ticket information @  Run-time 2-hours, 45-minutes including intermission.

Production crew :  Director Dean Paul Gibson.  Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Scenery Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Composer / Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Puppet Design & Construction Heidi Wilkinson, Frances Henry.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Choreography Tracey Power.  Physical Theatre Choreographer Wendy Gorling.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill.  Apprentice Stage Manager Tanya Schwaerzle.  Directing Apprentice Robinson Wilson.

Performers :  Lois Anderson (Paulina).  Ian Butcher (Polixenes).  Kevin MacDonald (Leontes).  Serena Malani (Hermione).  Parmiss Sehat (Mamillius).  Laara Sadiq (Camillo).  Amber Lewis (Emilia).  Ashley O'Connell (Rogero).  Andrew Wheeler (Antigonus).  Julien Galipeau (Cleomenes).  Amber Lewis (Dion).  David M. Adams (Shepherd).  Chris Cochrane (Clown, Shepherd's son).  Austin Eckert (Florizel).  Kaitlin Williams (Perdita).  Ben Elliott (Autolycus).  Amber Lewis (Dorcus).  Permiss Sehat (Mopsa).  Members of the Company (Sicilian lords, ladies, officials, guards, gaolers, mariners, bohemian shepherds and citizens).


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