Sunday, 2 February 2014

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Measure for Measure - Pacific Theatre 2014

Go see this play, Measure for Measure is considered one of the problem plays, and it is problematic. It’s uncomfortable, nuanced, and it refuses to offer simple morality. Those elements can either be the thing that makes the play brilliant, or a muddled mess. The production by Honest Fishmongers is on the side of brilliance.  

The play from begins when the Duke decides to turn over his power to a man named Angelo and go into hiding. He leaves Angelo instructions that he is to punish citizens for fornication under laws that have been ignored during the Dukes reign.

Angelo is known for being an upright and pious man. He enacts the laws and sentences a man to death for impregnating a woman he isn't married to. The man, Claudio, sends his sister a novice who is preparing to take orders to plead with Angelo. Angelo is intrigued by her, and he lays out the ultimatum - she can sleep with him and save her brothers life.

I love director Kevin Bennett, especially for his pacing of the actors. He finds the natural speech patterns in Shakespeare, allowing his actors to run their lines over each other, the way real conversations can overlap. He also allows his actors to pause.... to draw out silences and not rush forward with the next line. It gives the show a weight - especially fitting for this play. 

There are a few clear moral choices (Angelo's behavior aside). The question for Claudio and Isabella over what sacrifices you make for someone you love has no easy answer. Honest Fishmongers production doesn't shy away from the discomfort or complexity in this show. 

They are blessed with a strong cast. Julie McIsaac, as Isabelle, has always had the ability to be strong and heartbreaking, and she puts it to good use in this role. Angelo is played by Simon Webb, who I loved as Polonius and Lear. He is willing to show Angelo at his worst, with no pretense that his demands of Isabella are anything less then vile, he is as always able to be deeply human.

The staging the focus of the play concealment. Working with both lights and hand held candles there is an emphasis on what we do when no one is looking, and how our actions change under a public gaze. While the staging is interesting and beautiful, it was also my only complaint. The change between dark and light is a little intense and hard on your eyes. Moderating the light levels would prevent this from distracting the audience and allow more attention to focus on the actors. 

Honest Fishmongers is a co-op group, so the split the profits from the show... support them, we need more shows like this.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hamlet (Havana Theatre - 2010)

I love fresh interpretations of Shakespeare; it’s what keeps me interested, especially with something as well known as Hamlet. So I’m often impressed when a company makes a bold choice or uses dramatic staging and costumes. This play didn’t do that – instead they proved that you can make a play fresh by doing the small things very well.

This may be one of my favorite productions of Hamlet to date, and it was all in the details.  In a theatre the size of a railcar, with little set, and almost no costumes they created a fantastic Hamlet. The tiny theatre was draped in white fabric, isolating the audience and actors in their own strange world. The actors worked with the close quarters, integrating the audience and making them part of the action. Hamlet’s soliloquies are delivered in a pleading manner directly to the audience.  

Rhys Finnick’s Hamlet was younger and more vulnerable than any previous Hamlet I’ve seen. His Hamlet isn’t a mature philosopher; rather he is a confused young man who is overwhelmed by the task ahead. There were moments when you believed that Hamlet didn’t know his own motivation, but it played out as a young mans confusion, not a lack of understanding on the part of the actor.

Julie McIsaac was at turns feisty and heart-breaking as Ophelia, and brought wit and brains to the character in a way I’ve never seen before. Polonius (Simon Webb) managed to find a balance between humour, and actually being someone you could believe as the Kings advisor.  The play within a play was a highlight, full of over the top acting and overwrought gestures.

Each actor paid such attention to the lines, both their own and those of others. Throughout the play I had trouble deciding who I wanted to watch, their reactions to the lines were almost as good as the lines themselves. In addition the director had a number of the actors overlap their lines, adding a level of reality and a more conversational tone to a number of scenes.  Little touches and details made this play, and were what made it so excellent.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Staging Shakespeare

As something random I wanted to link to some of my favorite video clips about staging Shakespeare.

The first clip is from Stage Beauty, which is a so-so movie, but happens to have a great discussion of Othello, and in particular the death scene. Earlier in the movie there is a line where the female character says "I always hated you as Desdemona. You never fought! You just died, beautifully. No woman would die like that, no matter how much she loved him. A woman would fight!".

For anyone who hasn't seen Slings and Arrow, you are missing out. Anyway these are two of my favorite clips about how to stage Shakespeare. This first is directions to the actress playing Ophelia, and the second is to an actor playing Macbeth.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Top 15 - The Number 14 (Waterfront)

Okay, I’ll admit that my fondness for this one is partly based on my old Young Shakespearians teacher Mike Stark being it. Also, when they did the vignette about Shakespeare I was the only one laughing and he finally turned to the audience and said “come on people, it’s Shakespeare, if you don’t get it ask the girl laughing.” That said, when done well the Number 14 can be extremely funny, and it has a Vancouver flavor – since it was written about a Vancouver bus. It's a great play for anyone who has spent too much time commuting on public transit.

Top 15 - Measure for Measure (Bard on the Beach 1999)

There is something very creepy about Measure for Measure (it’s a story about the misuse of power, morals, and the nature of sacrifice) and this play was willing to embrace that, rather then pretend that it’s a more traditional comedy.  It was the first year for the Studio Stage at Bard, and like many of the best Studio Stage productions they were willing to take risks. It was a simple stripped down production, done in mostly modern dress, and it works for this play. It also starred David Marr and Dean Paul Gibson.  David Marr played an Angelo that was both slimy and sympathetic, and I can still remember his delivery of the line “ever till now when men were fond, I smiled and wondered how”.

Top 15 - Midsummer Nights Dream (Bard on the Beach 2006)

This was Midsummer Nights Dream done right – completely over the top, ridiculous, and unself-conscious. Puck looked like Billy Idol and was dressed in leather and a tutu, every dirty joke was played for all it was worth, and some scenes had a hint of improve that kept them fresh and funny. It was the perfect antidote to anyone who ever thought Shakespeare was boring and stuck up.