Continuing our survey of the opening shows of Stratford’s 61st season, I note that veteran Director Miles Potter has been called back to the Festival to do another production of The Three Musketeers. Peter Raby’s translation of the Dumas classic is fluid and accessible. Potter and his company have found bits of humour here and there that make the show enjoyable for people of all ages, and his casting couldn’t be better. As the irascible D’Artagnan, Luke Humphrey becomes the “next best thing” at Stratford. He is made to look even better with the support of Jonathan Goad, Mike Shara and Graham Abbey as the Musketeers, all of whom give exciting and exacting bouts of swordplay thanks to John Stead’s fight direction. The story is involved, but made clear by Raby’s adaptation and Potter’s crisp direction that keeps the epic under three hours on stage. It’s still a bit too long but the time flies when you are having a good time.

The heroes are heroic and the villains are truly evil. Deborah Hay shows her serious side as Milady DeWinter, while Steven Sutcliffe, borrowed from the Shaw Festival, creates a slimy Cardinal Richelieu. Bethany Jullard is sweet as the hero’s love interest. I was happy to see Keith Dinicol’s return to the Festival stage as a foolish French King. He and actors such as Wayne Best, Lally Cadeau and Robert King are part of a large cast who fill the stage with action and fun. You can’t keep me away from any play by Noel Coward, even one that he was rumored to have written in less than a week. I am sure he was ruminating about the story long before he sat down to put it on paper. “Blithe Spirit” is delivered from the hands of Director Brian Bedford, who personally knew the Master and who has acted in many Coward productions, some with the legendary Maggie Smith.

The story is about a dead wife who is summoned back from the dead to the home of her husband and his second wife. It turns out they can’t get rid of the spirit, who hangs around disrupting the household and irritating the new wife. Hubby is beside himself and they agree to try exorcism with the expertise of a ditsy fortune-teller and mystic named Madame Arcati. It is one of the great comic roles in theatre and done to a tee by Seanna McKenna in a wild departure from her great dramatic creations. Ben Carlson is the beleaguered Charles Condomine and Sara Topham is Ruth, his rigid wife. The invading spirit, Elvira, has not only returned from the dead, but her portrayer, Michelle Giroux has returned from a Festival absence to develop a remarkable, spirited apparition. Wendy Thatcher and James Blendick are friends at the séance and witness the odd goings-on. I have enjoyed the work of both for many seasons and their experience adds quality to a good production. If you ever wondered about that phrase “There are no small parts”, it will become clear when you see Susie Burnett as Edith the maid. She is one of the best things in the show. It is a true ensemble piece, designed to provoke and entertain. It’s an experience.

Article by: Ric Wellwood

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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