A Theatre Buff Reviews The Virgin Trial

Playwright Kate Hennig demonstrated her grip on an audience with The Last Wife at Stratford in 2015. This year, she’s doing it again with The Virgin Trial.

The Virgin Trial, Stratford Festival 2017

Brad Hodder as Thom and Bahia Watson as Bess. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The play covers the life of the young Princess Elizabeth (Bahia Watson) between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. It’s an unstable time for the throne.  Two brothers, Lord Somerset (Nigel Bennett) and the Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour (Brad Hodder) are jockeying for position at the court of the young King Edward (heir to Henry VIII).  Thom has proposed to each of the Princesses (Mary and Elizabeth) and been refused by the court. He settles for Catherine Parr, the dowager queen and the last wife of Henry VIII, and by so doing he becomes Bes’ stepfather. It’s the combination of Thom’s illicit rallying of troops, sexualized tickling and teasing of Bes, and attempted break-in of the young King’s apartments that puts the future queen in peril. The pivotal question posed by the regency council (Yanna McIntosh) is whether the future queen knowingly conspired with Thomas Seymour to depose her step-brother, King Edward VI .

Could a teenage girl reasonably be implicated in treason? This one could be. She’s smart. She’s strategic. And when she realizes the significance of the charges that have not yet been made against her, she makes every effort to protect her governess, Kat Ashley (Laura Condlin), and comptroller Thomas Parry (André Morin). When Ashley and Parry are sent to the Tower of London, Bes does what any motherless teenage girl would do: She seeks the counsel of her older sister, Princess Mary (Sara Farb). Interestingly, these latter exchanges offer the only break from the tension that reigns on the stage.

The dialogue in The Virgin Queen is taut. The acting is impeccable. The set is sparse. And the costumes are modern. If you plan to attend, be prepared to sit on the edge of your seat.

The Virgin Trial is playing at the Stratford Festival until September 30, 2017

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews: Matilda The Musical 

Matilda The Musical is the delightful tale of a little girl who survives the emotional abuse of her narcissistic, conniving and stupid parents, and the spirit crushing conduct of the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Elementary. The book upon which this musical is based was written by Roald Dahl, so we know that there will be both harrowing and hilarious moments as the story unfolds. Matilda survives these wretched adults because she is a precocious reader and a gifted storyteller. And she thrives because she has support: her Grade One classmates and two mentors (the librarian and her teacher).

Matilda The Musical - Mirvish

The role of Matilda is demanding. The night I attended it was performed by the talented Hannah Levinson.  She shone, and she was capably supported by her ‘classmates’ who are also triple threat performers.  Matilda’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Brandon McGibbon and Darcy Stewart) were suitably despicable, and the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy), was the embodiment of a mean spirit. The roles of teacher and librarian (Miss Honey-Paula Brancati and Mrs. Phelps-Keisha T. Fraser) were understated by comparison. Both were performed with engagement and compassion.

Kudos to Tim Minchin who created the tuneful music and spirited lyrics and to Rob Howell who designed a set that incorporates colourful and eclectic tiles from the game of Scrabble.

If you plan to see Matilda, do take one or more children with you. The children surrounding me were totally absorbed in the story, as were their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Matilda is a superb introduction to the joy of live performance.

Matilda The Musical is playing at Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto until October 16, 2016.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of one family’s journey through palliative care.

A Theatre Buff Reviews: The Ladies Foursome

If camaraderie, confessions, and competition are the hallmark of a golf foursome, then director Marcia Kash has hit this production of The Ladies Foursome straight down the fairway. Playwright, Norm Foster, has captured women’s voices and social tics in an uncanny manner. It’s funny to the point where laughing is not enough. Spontaneous applause and foot stomping broke out several times. There were moments when I wondered if Foster’s research had involved activating hidden recorders in golf bags — in my foursomes’ bags to be specific.

The story begins on the first tee. It’s the morning after one of the members of the foursome, Katherine, has been buried. Her place has been taken by Dory who is a stranger to the remaining three members. Dory had known ‘Kathy’ for twelve years; the three remaining members have known each other and ‘Katherine’ for fourteen years. The knowing and not knowing of Kathy/Katherine creates a core of tension which leads to the revelation of secrets. The character profiles are strong: the narcissistic, flirtatious Connie (Gabrielle Jones); the anxious but pretty Tate (Stacy Smith); the tough talking, beer guzzling Margot (Karen Wood); and the earth mother, scripture spouting Dory (Carmen Grant).  Foster gives them lines that have the audience howling. Each of the actors has a powerful grip on her character, and her clubs.

The set by Douglas Paraschuk is spectacular— a lush golf course which has the actors entering and exiting from three different points. It supports the illusion that the tee box at centre stage is specific for each of eighteen holes. The lighting by Siobhán Sleath produces the effect of the passage of time during the course of four hours of play.

The Ladies Foursome is the final production of the 2015-2016 season at Theatre Aquarius. It should leave theatregoers eager to come back for more. The Ladies Foursome plays until May 7, 2016.

2016-the ladies foursome

A Theatre Buff Reviews: If I Were You

If I Were You is billed as a comedy, but there is little to smile about in the first act. My advice… stay for the second act to appreciate the humour. It’s there, and it provides an engaging and welcome redemption of social roles based upon gender. Not only is the writing and acting cleverly done, it’s laugh out loud funny.

The first act introduces us to a series of dysfunctional conversations between and amongst family members: an entitled father/husband, a depressed mother/wife, an angry teenage son, a married and anxious daughter, and a brash son-in-law. The exchanges are raw, angry, and had me cringing; I felt like an unwilling voyeur. Not surprising, a number of audience members left at intermission. That was their loss. They missed out on what was an uplifting resolution of family distress. 

Through the intervention of magical realism, one night the father/husband and mother/wife mysteriously have their personalities switched. Each is left to inhabit the other’s body. They are horrified, but decide to maintain a front of normalcy, and that is where the humour and the insights kick in. It’s a premise that could lead to some interesting conversations during the ride home from theatre, or over breakfast the next day.

Brigitte Robinson and Brad Dury do a magnificent job of playing their own gender roles, and each other’s. They are capably supported by Maria Dinn, Sean Hauk, and Kyle Orzech. The set is superb in that it works as the interior of a modern home and as a furniture showroom. The transformation between the two is accomplished by something as simple and as powerful as lighting.

If I Were You is well worth your time…if you stay to the end of the second act! It’s playing at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton until March 19, 2016.


A Theatre Buff Reviews: Bigmouth

Bigmouth is an inspired production, brilliantly executed.

It’s a one man show with Valentijn Dhaenens as the writer and performer, and Jeroen Wuyts as his sound and light design technician. They make a powerful team.

The seminal idea for the production grew from Dhaenens’ decision to read one political speech a day. In the course of a year he had read more than 1000 speeches that span centuries, and cover a range of concerns that include political, religious, military, and moral issues. In time, patterns emerged. Dhaenens wove the speeches together to exemplify and profile the messages: war mongering, manipulation, mourning, celebration, defiance, apology, and abdication.

While the line-up may sound dry, the delivery and staging is anything but. The mash-up of the speeches by Goebbels and Patton was spellbinding. Dhaenens moved between microphones as he did an onstage ‘quick character change,’ multiple times, between the two historic speakers. In doing so, he captured the individual and diametrically opposed power of their respective delivery styles —elegant vs. brash, tempered vs.vociferous.

Dhaenens engages whether he is speaking in Latin, French or German. (For those of us who are less than multilingual, there are super-titles.) He captures cadence and accents superbly to portray English speaking characters that include Robert Kennedy, Nicola Sacco and F. Van Hecke.

The set is simple: multiple microphones are attached to an extended conference table, on which several glasses of water sit. Without giving anything away, I will note that the water is used for more than drinking. Looping music is interspersed throughout the production as an effective transition between themes and mood. The last piece, which I will not disclose, is a poignant finale.

I managed to see Bigmouth on Tuesday this week. It runs until Sunday February 7, 2016. It’s definitely worth your while.