Stratford Reviews: Shakespeare’s in Love with Macbeth Who’s a Hypochondriac. Which is As We Like It.

Good morning, readers! Welcome to our second Stratford blog! Sorry we’ve been neglecting you! We had planned to blog consistently, but the trip has been a whirlwind so far and when we return to the B&B in the evenings we tend to pass out. Thursday was our first two show day and damn was it good. We saw the matinee of Shakespeare in Love at the Avon Theatre and the evening performance of Macbeth at the Festival Theatre. It was a fantastic day with some truly incredible performances that created a perfect balance for our first full-length day of shows. Shakespeare in Love elevated our mood with some great laughs and a gorgeous use of period music while Macbeth’s stunning and often chilling visual effects (paired with tragic and bloody subject matter) took us aback and kept our breath endlessly bated.

Then, yesterday we saw both As You Like It and The Hypochondriac at the Festival Theatre. It was a fun-filled day of comedies which succeeded in sending us on our way with a smile. Another perfect pairing of theatre. Both casts were wonderful and (as usual) Stratford delivered beautiful uses of the Festival’s thrust stage configuration. Now for the reviews! We’ll go show by show in the order which we saw them…

Shakespeare in Love is based on the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, but somehow it works just as well (if not better) on stage. There is more material in the form of Shakespearean “insider” jokes, there’s plenty more Kit Marlowe (who’s easy on the eyes), there’s a consistent use of live music throughout, an adorable dog, and some all-around excellent performances. Also, Queen Elizabeth dances. The set was a beautiful design that helped the audience orient themselves with their viewpoint. It consisted of a large central piece that moved on a track upstage and downstage creating different perspectives and utilizing the enormous stage area in unexpected ways. The entire company was delightful, but we confess a partiality for the expanded role of Kit Marlowe. Marlowe was played by Saamer Usmani (the guy who played Achates in The Aeneid) and he was magnetic. His choices onstage in terms of character and movement were perfection, capturing a Kit Marlowe whose affected mannerisms are as much an act as the show we were watching. Henslowe, played by Stephen Ouimette was another standout whose comedic performance was a constant throughout the afternoon and whom we were thus excited to be seeing as Argan in The Hypochondriac. Both the leads were amazing, well-cast, funny, and likeable though we are divided on which we preferred. C preferred Luke Humphrey in the role of Shakespeare and I thoroughly enjoyed Shannon Taylor’s performance as Viola. And shoutout to Mike Nadajewski as the Boatman (and various other small roles) for having some wonderfully well-timed pantomime and possibly getting one of the biggest laughs in the show. Comedy is hard and the whole cast nailed it. No laugh lines were dropped, making for a highly enjoyable experience.

Macbeth was creepstatic. It was so brilliantly lit and staged and scored…. Honestly, the overall design outshone the play itself. The use of shadows, dark and light, haze, misdirection, and voice effects in the sound design created a macabre atmosphere that was perfectly suited to the play. The best thing we can say for this show and its cast is that neither of us were tempted to quote Reduced Shakespeare during the performance. The performances were even and well-directed with a beautiful balance of talent that never once had us question the casting decisions on the director’s part. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were cast younger than many productions would normally go, which almost created a whole new story in showing a young couple whose inexperience and rash decisions bring about their downfall. With an older couple the cruel decisions come from a place of being overlooked and harboring old resentments. Lady Macbeth (played by Krystin Pellerin) in particular was very strong in this production despite her diminutive stature. Macbeth (played by Ian Lake) rushed much of his dialogue in the first half, but was overall a fine choice in the role. The witches and the porter, however, stole the show. The porter (played by Cyrus Lane) was a moment of comedic brilliance in the midst of bloody mayhem while the witches (played by Brigit Wilson, Deirde Gillard-Rowlings, and Lanise Antoine Shelley) were mesmerizing as they slunk across the stage spewing incantations that would give you chills. Shoutout to creepy child voices and Macduff (Michael Blake).

Yesterday we attended the matinee of As You Like It. Or perhaps we should say we were part of the matinee of As You Like It. A fantastically fun reimagining of Shakespeare’s comedy set in 1980s Newfoundland, this production borrowed from the cultural tradition of shared storytelling. The audience was heavily involved in the show and we had a wonderful time being trees, a meadow, the ocean, and sheep. Hymen was transformed into an MC and narrator who not only guided the audience through participation, but also played cupid, pairing the couples for those of shorter attention spans in the audience… Speaking of, we had a couple fall asleep next to us and snore through Act 1. It was not fun. It was distracting and interrupted the “All the World’s a Stage” speech. Thankfully, they didn’t come back after the intermission. Overall the women overshadowed the men in this play, which is really as it should be. Celia (Trish Lindstrom) and Rosalind (Petrina Bromley) were perfectly coupled (Celia as the ridiculous, silly, girly girl and Rosalind as the honest, hopeful straight (wo)man) while Seana McKenna as Jaques was a brilliant piece of gender-bent casting. Shoutout to Cyrus Lane once again for finding the comedy in the straightforward character of Orlando and to Sanjay Talwar for his treatment of Touchstone the fool.

And now for the play which has captured our hearts and currently stands as the reigning champion of Stratford Festival 2016: The Hypochondriac. We would be hard-pressed to find a weakness in this production. We were screaming with laughter from start to finish (except for the very very end). Everyone was cast to perfection. The lighting, the set, the costumes, the use of Commedia del Arte, and the music were a combination of true sublimity. You guys, it was just so good. It was adapted as though Moliere’s troupe of players was performing The Hypochondriac for Louis XIV. In fact, it was presented as the final performance Moliere ever gave… (he collapsed onstage playing the titular character). Everybody was a standout. EVERYONE found the comedy with ease and milked it for all it was worth. Stephen Ouimette as Argan and Brigit Wilson as Toinette together created the energetic engine that kept the show moving forward at breakneck speed. We were exceptionally fond of Ian Lake’s (aka Macbeth’s) performance as Thomas Diafoirerhoea because it was so over-the-top and such a drastic leap from the bloody Scot we had witnessed the night before. Also, Ben Carlson as Beralde (Argan’s brother) was a wonderful anchor for Act 2, reining in the ridiculousness that threatens to erupt. We really loved this show. A lot.

We’re off to see the histories today so expect a lengthy review from C in the coming days. She says “sorry in advance”, but don’t let that detract you because I’m sure the shows will be wonderful and the review (however long) illuminating.

Signing off from Stratford!

-A & C

 

 

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