Friday, August 15, 2008

2008 Shaw Festival Season Reviews
By David Grapes

Productions are listed in order of preference


After The Dance (Royal George)
• Wonderful undiscovered play by Terence Rattigan
• Taut and insightful direction by Christopher Newton
• Strong cast lead by Patrick Galligan and Deborah Hay
• Nice supporting performance by Neil Barclay. While known primarily as a comedian Barclay’s last scene was quite simple and very poignant. He showed a dramatic range that unfortunately we do not get to see from Mr. Barclay very often
• Nice comic turn by the venerable Jennifer Phipps as a dotty maid and later an over zealous secretary
• The night we were in attendance Claire Jullien was on for Lisa Horner as Julia Brown and gave a big brassy performance. While she ahs done some strong work the past few years at the Stratford Festival the artistic leadership always struggled to find the proper roles for her talent. It was nice to see her in two plays here at Shaw that really suited her talent.
• Excellent pace and attention to period detail
• The set by William Schmuck was breathtaking and his costumes exquisite
• Nice ensemble work from the acting company (Jay Turvey, Ken James Stewart, Marla Mclean
• Actors and the audience were emotionally and intellectually engaged in a thought provoking play

The President (Royal George)
• The best performance of the season by Lorne Kennedy who not only gave us all a lesson in both fast- talking and side-splitting comedy. His vocal and physical work in this production were nothing short of amazing.
• I can’t remember laughing so hard since the late Heath Lamberts lit up the Shaw stage in the 1980’s
• It is hard to know how much of this marvelous mayhem was created by Kennedy or director Blair Williams. It looked like it was Kennedy at the helm but I am going to give Williams credit for keeping it all under control and in focus.
• An amazing set design by the gifted Cameron Porteous. Not only was it beautifully executed but it was funny. And it gave the ever-inventive Kennedy lots of opportunity to create silly stage business.
• The pace was full on in your face farce. You took your breaths between laughs so most of the time we were all gasping for air
• Funny funny character work from Jeff Meadows, Nicole Correia-Damude, William Vickers, Guy Bannerman and Thom Marriott (who conjured up memories for me of his brilliant Bottom in the “Cirque Midsummer” a few years back at Stratford)
• Performed as a lunchtime production with a running time of 50 minutes this show had more entertainment value than any show I saw at Shaw or Stratfor this season
• It is time to give Mr. Kennedy a crack at those silly English farces like One for the Pot

An Inspector Calls (Festival)
• Interesting visual design by Peter Hartwell. It was certainly had a “film noir” influence and featured a large warehouse looking structure in front of a platform which moved like the pendulum of a clock. While the design nearly occupied every square foot of the Festival Theatre stage it still had a claustrophobic feel that served the tension created in the plot
• Nice atmospheric lighting by Kevin Lamontte which was also supported by an evocative soundscape created by Paul Sportelli.
• Sharp focused direction by Jim Mezon. Well staged with inventive business. Nice transitional moments with the inspector before and between scenes. Coached some excellent performances from the acting ensemble.
• Benedict Campbell was a stand out as the Inspector. He was part film noir and part Brechtian
• I always felt that the actors were listening to each other and “in the moment”
• Well cast with uniformly strong performances across the veteran cast
• Good vocal and dialect work
• Watching the acting area move was an interesting visual for the audience
• A very classy and well produced production. A delightful and modern twist on an old chestnut of a script.
• Obviously it is time to give director Mezon some of the larger Shavian productions to mount on the large stage

Wonderful Town (Festival)
• A strong production of a seldom produced American classic
• Not the best Bernstein score but a Bernstein score none the less. Some witty lyrics by the late great songwriting team of Comden and Green
• Interesting unit set design by William Schmuck that was always transforming into a new location with drops and revolves. Schmuck received able support from Costume designer Judith Bowden
• Large cast with excellent singing chops
• Dancing was inconsistent and the choreography (Jane Johanson) did not always have an organic feel to it and was repetitious
• Nicely staged by Roger Hodgman
• Both female leads (Eileen – Chilinda & Kennedy Ruth –Lisa Horner) were triple threats. Horner in particular reminded me of a young Nancy Walker, Imogene Coco or Ruth Buzzi. Horner was funny, self deprecating and charming and almost single handedly held the flimsy plot line together. She and Kennedy had wonderful chemistry together and lit up the stage each time they appeared.
• Good supporting work by Thom Marriott and Lorne Kennedy (both of whom were so excellent in The President)
• A talented orchestra - well supported by sound designer John Lott

A Little Night Music (Court House)
Mrs. Warren’s Profession (Festival)
Belle Moral (Court House)
The Little Foxes (Royal George)

The Stepmother (Court House)
Getting Married (Royal George)

Follies in Concert

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