"Nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.
" Act V, scene vii
|Stratford Festival of Canada ; August 6, 2004 Stratford, Canada|
Reviewed on : 2004-08-08 11:14:18 ; Reviewed by : Antonia Mandry
|All preview performances have a degree of rawness about them. They lack the polish, the finish, the gleam. This production of King John was no different than any other preview and much of my commentary is tempered by this knowledge. |
The director, Antoni Cimolino, obviously has some fantastic ideas that will come to fruition when the proper run begins. One of my favorite in his "bag of tricks" is his use of his extras (soldiers in the battle) to change the set (with a roar they run into battle pushing the main set piece, a staircase on wheels, off-stage, around stage, as if it were the carriage for a cannon). Further, the prowling of the soldiers around the rim of the apron was also a striking image. In addition, some specific staging sticks in my mind; particularly the staging of Blance after her wedding at the moment of choice. In a fascinating manner, the director has her husband, her king, and two other characters arrayed around her in a circle? cross? In either situation, Blanche is being surrounded and pulled in different directions, a staging that gives added dimension to a sometimes overlooked character. Blanche is often dismissed as a device of extreme pathos; a character whose only function is to evoke a painful pity. Cimolino's direction and Keira Loughran's apt portrayal help to add personality to a forgotten figure. To be certain, none of the staging is particularly innovative, but a sure hand at the reins is always appreciated. More importantly, the staging choices made a coherent whole, unlike other productions which seem to create a crazy patchwork of styles. Directorially my only concerns were the lack of music used in the production (one thing I always look forward to) and the static nature of the initial scene; concerns that are allayed by the professionalism of the rest of the production.
The acting was, on the whole, rather by the numbers and the text screams for something extraordinary. Stephen Ouimette, in the eponymous character, is given the thankless task of creating some fire in a rather empty character. However, John remains a curiously emotionless figure, seeming to merely watch the events and speaking his lines on cue with a faint curiousity as to what will happen. Perhaps the greatest weakness of this character is the fact that it's title character is utterly dull. Fairing somewhat better is Jonathan Goad as Philip the Bastard. The character is a scream, drolly commenting on the events of the first act and stoking up fires, morphing into a leader of men in the second. Goad has the potential to be a great comic actor and certainly has the stage presence to accomplish this. He seems, however, to be faintly unsure of himself (perhaps because this is a preview performance?) and sometimes speaking so quietly that his words are lost or underplaying his comic lines so the effect and timing are somewhat mislaid. At other times, his lines punctuate political debates with a jerk of his chin to sublime effect. Diane D'Aquila's Constance is also a consummate portrayal of a fierce lioness protecting her cub -- with her full throaty voice she almost seems to growl in her defiance. Hubert, played by Tom McCamus -- an actor always welcome, is appropriately powerful and powerless, inhumane and utterly human. Bernard Hopkins' Papal Legate is amusing if only because he reminded me greatly of Michael Palin. Finally, Martha Henry's Eleanor is almost an afterthought on stage, though her demeanor is impressive.
Santo Loquasto's costumes were amazing, especially for the ladies. Blanche's striking first costume, a vibrant red dress, contrasted wonderfully not only with her own raven hair but also with the rather stark costumes of the rest of the cast. Constance's wardrobe consisted of greys and blacks (save for her cream nightdress) which made her appear even more pale and despairing. The costumes on the whole evoked the late 19th, early 20th century save for Eleanor's dress: a militaristic almost French Revolutionary style coupled with her soldierly crewcut of a hairstyle added a sense of danger to her already formidable character.
A few comments on the text and then I am done:
Lewis' utter vanity is unbelievable! He only falls in love with Blanche after he sees himself reflected in her eyes. Blanche's rather insightful comment about Constance: she "speaks not from her faith but from her need." Who would have thought Blanche would be so perceptive?
I find it difficult to believe in King Philip's honest indecision in breaking his word as it was portrayed in this production. Historically, he hated England, Eleanor (his ex-step-mother, by the way), etc. and would never had any problem with betraying that country. Also, I think it might have been interesting to have him played with a more devious slant. But this is an entirely personal preference.
Christian Schussele, 1858
Hubert and Arthur
|Oregon Shakespeare Festival|
July 26, 2006
|Stratford Festival of Canada|
August 6, 2004
|Chicago Shakespeare Theatre|
March 28, 2004