It is difficult to stage a classic play in modern dress. Some things on stage just don’t look right. This season, the Stratford Festival made another attempt to “modernize” a classic: The Changeling by Thomas Middleton, a contemporary of the Bard. This time around, the only thing on stage that doesn’t look right is a series of tall stone arches that serve as a maze the performers can weave in and out of’ having some of their actions blocked in one of Canada’s easiest stages to see everything from just about any angle. The costume design was first-rate and Jackie Maxwell’s first directing job after her Artistic Directorship at the Shaw Festival gives the audience an ascetic experience of betrayal, murder and unabashed sexuality that shows how penetrating good theatre can be.
The story revolves around a young noblewoman whose father has betrothed her to a man she despises. She is also being stalked by a man so obsessed with her that he would do anything she wished. The recipe is murder and the accompanying blackmail that would immediately bring justice in a fatal and bloody conclusion. The woman is created with sociopathic skill by Mikaela Davies, and her stalker is presented with obsessive strength and keen focus by Ben Carlson in one of his best efforts on stage. Gareth Potter and Tim Campbell give solid support in a subplot that has us cheering for a sane and enterprising young man who commits himself to a madhouse so he can seduce the wife of the asylum’s Director.
It may be considered a lesser Classic, but it provides us with a rare and searing experience enacted by a superior cast is roles that lack sympathy, but are clearly and forcefully presented in a play that can confuse those who don’t get involved. It is a worthwhile experience and a Jackie Maxwell Master Class in Theatre.
New at Shaw
At Niagara-On-The-Lake, the Shaw Festival has opened three new productions at midseason. On stage AT THE Royal George Theatre, a half-dozen superior actresses give good performances in Brian Friel’s Irish classic “Dancing at Lughnasa”. The story opens in Northern Ireland in a poor household of women who are oppressed and making a meagre living doing small jobs. The story is told by their nephew, sharing memories with the audience with his experiences as a boy who lives amid the conflicts in the story. The narration is done with grace and Patrick Galligan.
The lunchtime production at the Courthouse Theatre is a world premiere, “Wilde Tales”, created from the works of Oscar Wilde by Canadian playwright Kate Hennig. The show runs 55 minutes and covers several short stories originally written for young people. The pace is frenetic and funny, with wonderful, colourful costumes, some good music and fine performances, particularly by Marion Day through her five roles. Everyone else doubles in roles and they are helped by a host of grade school children who provide imagination and energy for director Christine Brubaker.
The Courthouse stage is also home for “Androcles and the Lion”, a rarely performed play by George Bernard Shaw. A Greek tailor just happens to remove a thorn from the paw of a cranky lion and is later rewarded in the Roman Coliseum where he sent to be devoured by beasts with a number of other Christians. Patrick Galligan is Androcles and Jenny L. Wright is his shrewish wife. Shaw stalwarts like Julia Course, Neil Barclay and Kyle Blair give performances that take the audience back two thousand years in a credible way. All three shows illustrate the range a talents at the Shaw Festival this season.