Music, whimsy, and the Merry Wives of Windsor

A.D. Rowe

Wives singing
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, 2016 Bard on the Beach; Photo: David Blue

What sets the productions of Bard on the Beach in Vancouver, BC apart from other Shakespeare performances is their style.

To be honest, the average person going to work unclogging a drain, filing papers, ceaselessly one-upping a coworker just to keep on top of the pedantic pyramid, doesn’t have time for Shakespeare.  (Hmmm, it’s actually quite ironic Shakespeare writes many of these seemingly mundane human behaviours into his plays so really, we should be constantly reading and watching Shakespeare so as to be aware of the ruts we are in.  But that’s a discussion for another time.)  What Bard on the Beach does so well is to appeal to the people while staying true to Shakespeare.  Sure, I see a few people nodding off during a long-winded soliloquy, however, I rarely find a person come away from a production regretting they had gone.

Bard of the Beach in their 2016 slate has again produced a magical musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor set in Windsor, Ontario in the late 1960s that holds both the comedic Shakespeare in tact with the bar style kitsch Canadiana of Windsor.

The lifeless eyes of the stuffed moose head looks down on the Garter in where the wives Mrs. Ford and Page take the stage to kick off with These Boots are Made for Walkin’ while young Slender and Dr. Caius pine for Miss Page and the fat Falstaff looks to swindle the lot.

Photo 2Much of the play’s success rides on Falstaff as Shakespeare’s popular buffoon (whom it is rumoured the Queen really liked) holds much of the energy between the various parties.  He pursues the wives while Mr. Ford in disguise plies him for information about his schemes and all the while, Mrs Ford and Page are playing Falstaff for the fool he is.  Ashely Wright plays the bombastic Falstaff and does an excellent job of capturing the sleazy businessman who thinks himself the true ladies man while being totally clueless at the same time.

While the entire cast from Bard on the Beach is exceptional, a few others stood out that night.  Andrew Chown was spectacular as Dr. Caius in ridiculous valour suits and a French accent while Ben Elliott channeled his Jim Carrey (you know. When he was funny) to play a gangly Slender who unenthusiastically pursues the mistress Page.  And the two wives of Windsor, Amber Lewis and Katey Wright (not this Katie Wright), were outstanding as they ran the stage both in verse and in song twisting Sir Falstaff every which was and into the laundry bin.

The joy of the show came from the musical that worked it’s way through script as characters would come from the wings to take up instruments and play and the bar keep and host of the Garter Inn, played by Anton Lipovetsky, did a great job with his guitar keeping it all together.  The cast used the music of the late 60s to enhance the story and give the actors a chance to express their character through song which worked well with keeping the audience engaged.  You could tell by scanning around the room and seeing the smiling faces that this production was a hit and one that is a must see this summer down in English Bay in Vancouver, BC.

Photo 1
David Marr, Ben Elliott & Andrew McNee THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, 2016 Bard on the Beach; Photo: David Blue

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Othello, a tale from the American Civil War

Kathleen Rowe

Having never seen or read Othello, and only using Iago as a crossword answer for ‘villain’ I was intrigued to find out just what this Shakespeare play, written when he was at the top of his form, was all about.

The Bard on the Beach production of Othello is set in 1864, towards the end of the American Civil War and it fits perfectly with the underlying theme of racism which is evident throughout the play.

Even though Othello has been promoted to Union Army General, he is treated with suspicion and has to wed Desdemona secretly has her father, Brabantio would not approve.

“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is tupping your white ewe,”
  – Iago

In the 1600s people with dark non-white skin were put in cages an displayed in the town square as curiosities. Even though the Union Army were fighting for emancipation in the Civil War there was still an acceptance of slavery and racism throughout the north and south.

Kayvon Kelly as Iago, in his fourth season of Bard, was very compelling, and a strong presence on stage. Indeed the play lagged a little when he wasn’t on stage. You could always feel his loathing for Othello.Photo 3_0

Othello was an imposing character but easily duped by the cruel Iago.

Why does he “Hate Othello?” It was stated with great vehemence more than once. Iago’s racism is at times very overt and other times subtle and poisonous.

Was it because Othello is black, or is he truly jealous?

It’s part of what makes the play so fascinating, Iago so delightfully evil, and Othello so utterly tragic.

Iago was both jealous and racist and felt passed over as Othello had chosen Cassio as his lieutenant

Even the handkerchief that Iago uses to spur jealousy in Othello was said to have special powers instilled from Othello, as if there was ‘black magic’ involved.

The death scene was a little weak and some members of the audience were even laughing although I could not see the humour in it. It kind of showed that Othello’s character, played by Luc Roderique, was not as strong as Iago although his physical presence on stage was imposing (tall and dark).

Director Bob Frazer says “by setting Othello during the American Civil War, we are shining a light on what many suspect to be the beginning of the new, deep-seated and subtle racism in North America.”

Frazer has been at Bard on the Beach since playing Hamlet in 2005. Since graduating from Studio 58 he has amassed almost 100 theatrical credits both as a director and actor.

He feels Shakespeare’s Othello is a “timeless story that moves audiences on a personal level, all while creating some of the most memorable characters in his canon.”

Luc Roderique (Othello) & Kayla Deorksen (Desdemona) OTHELLO, 2016 Bard on the Beach Photo: David Blue
Luc Roderique (Othello) & Kayla Deorksen (Desdemona)
Bard on the Beach
Photo: David Blue

The folk and instrumental music used throughout the play captured the patriotic fervor of the Civil War and the mournful ballads brought the themes of slavery, loyalty and love to life. Costumes were authentic to the period as well.

A well done and timely Shakespeare experience!

As always, we have to ask ourselves: would the bard approve of this production?

Yes! Forsooth he would!

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The Comedy of Errors with a Steampunk Twist, a Bard on the Beach miracle

With Bard on the Beach in full swing during a sweltering Vancouver summer, Director Scott Bellis has taken Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and given it the gears and gadgets of the Steampunk genre.
 I know what you’re thinking, “Steampunk? Was that not a thing a decade ago? I mean, how can you add to the genre when Will Smith’s Wild Wild West filled the cup full?”
Well said and I did think the same going into the main stage on Vancouver’s beautiful Vanier Park looking out over English Bay. How many times have we seen a kind of kitschy genre played out once too many much to the audience’s chagrin?
Comedy of Errors3
Photo credits – David Blue

Yet Scott Bellis and the Bard on the Beach cast delivered a delightfully entertaining performance using the Steampunk back drop to add colourful characters behind the scenes and flashy special effects right in the audience’s faces.

The widgets, levers and wire-rimmed glasses worked in and around Shakespearean forms of love, hate, jealousy, misdirection and slap stick found in his comedies.  The stage lighting tricks and quirky use of the monstrous Nurse, did nothing to take away from the fun of the mistaken identities and the foibles the followed.  It was not a nauseating ride through the planet’s core filled with distracting gooberfish  and the bigger fish that eat the gooberfish. It was a laugh fest coloured with smoke and lightening thanks to the design team including Pam Johnson (Scenery), Gerald King (Lighting), Malcolm Dow (Sound).
Comedy of Errors
Antipholus and Dromio take centre stage.

The play begins with the aging Egeon (Scott Bellis) from Syracuse thrown before the Duke of Ephesus and sentenced to death simply for being a Syracusian.  Sounds about right. Pleading for his life, Egeon tells his tragic tale of loss and how he came to be in Ephesus.  Many years ago on a voyage at sea a terrible storm separated Egeon from his wife and son leaving him with his other twin son and twin servant. Yep. All believable so far. Both children were called Antipholus and the servants Dromio and when Egeon’s remaining son left for Ephesus and failed to return, he has been on a decade long search for him.  The ever so generous Duke is moved by Egeon’s tale and grants a stay of execution granting him one day to come up with money for bail proving that all politicians are motivated by the promise of monetary reward (how can one not be cynical in these electoral times).

Comedy of Errors2
Antipholus berates his servant Dromio

Meanwhile across town, Antipholus of Syracuse (Ben Elliott) and his servant Dromio (Luisa Jojic) have come ashore unaware that they have stumbled upon the home town of their twin brothers Antipholus of Ephesus (Jay Hindle) and Dromio (Dawn Petten). In the ensuing confusion created by mistaken identity schtick that Shakespeare does so well, the antics of the Dromios and Antipholi drives the energy and comedy of the play right to the closing curtain.  Hats off to Elliott and Hindle as they are thrown this way and that and even more so to Jojic and Petten who were spectacular in making the horrors of slave ownership and abuse quite funny as they were slap sticked around the stage. Hmmm. Feels wrong.

Costume designer Mara Gottler deserves kudos for capturing the feel of Steampunk especially with the minor characters nefarious Dr. Pinch, the mysterious Abbess and the monstrous Nurse Poppy. The iron gears and twisting metal made for a darker backdrop to the play and added a mysterious element juxtaposing the comedic performances in the foreground. Gottler does well by taking the darker science fiction/fantasy look and decorating the characters with horned rimmed glasses, old aviator helmets and trench coats.
When mixed with the sights and sounds of the stage crew, Bard on the Beach delivers a production of The Comedy of Errors that is a unique and wild and fun and a show that demonstrates how this company continues to keep Shakespeare alive in Vancouver.

Bard on the Beach

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A certain kind of madness

Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear was a good crazy.

Jennifer Dorozio

Flashes of lightening crack, thunder roars and a stumbling madman emerges from the backdrop.

His shirt is un-tucked, his hair is full of static but, most telling, is the wild spark that fills his eyes, and the angry pitch with which he yells heavenward.

So enters the mad King Lear to the bittersweet pleasure of a rapt Calgary theatre audience. What the actor, Benedict Campbell, has successfully done, is to make you want to admonish the foolish king, and give him a comforting pat on the shoulder at the same time.

The scene described is the first we see after the intermission of Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear, directed by Dennis Garnhum which runs from March 10 until April 12.

Where the first half is full on Shakespearean plotting, dialogue and pensive monologues, the second is pure action and includes gouged eyeballs, a ranting half naked madman, and assorted “deserved” and “undeserved” deaths.

Photo credit - Trudie Lee
Photo credit – Trudie Lee

King Lear is one of the “famous” Shakespeare plays, which brings to life the tale of a King of Britain’s descent into madness, and then his journey out of it, which ends in tragedy, great loss and ultimately his death.

Intrigue abounds as brothers clash, and sisters with sharp tongues and nasty streaks are backed into corners as Lear’s kingdom is divvied up among the royal family.

The play centres on Lear and his three daughters, Goneril (Colleen Wheeler), Regan (Jennifer Lines) and Cordelia (Andrea Rankin). The aged king loves his youngest the best (hey! I’m the youngest and best too), and this leads to complications, especially after his own self-serving game of ‘how much do you love me?’ causes him to banish Cordelia. The vultures in the royal family, who try to wrest away power from his feeble hands, then betray the proud Lear.

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend,

Lear, I,i

The characters themselves feature some quirky and brooding additions in their mix. One in particular stands out among the rest: the fool, who is King Lear’s Court Jester, played by Bard on the Beach regular Scott Bellis.

*Garnhum’s Lear will follow at Bard on the Beach’s summer playbill.

The fool, imbues some much-needed levity into the first act. Wearing a coxcomb on his head, he spends a majority of his stage time leaping from place to place. Curiously, his mad interpretation of Lear’s confused reality does lend a bizarre sort of clarity to the king’s situation.

This is exemplified when the fool eerily jests to King Lear, “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen,” foreshadowing all the cacophonous events to come.

Heartbreaking is the excellent performance of the Earl of Gloucester, played by David Marr, who is the play’s one paternal character you can’t help but feel badly for as misfortune after misfortune befalls him.

Then there’s the scene that sticks out because of its unnecessary gore. Gloucester’s eyeballs are in stomach-churning fashion carved out his head and at one point even trodden upon. It did little to add to the production other then induce cringes and distraction at all the fake blood for a full two minutes afterward.

Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?

Cornwall, III, vii

Michael Blake performance of Edmund, the crafty bastard son of the Gloucester, is charmingly sinister. He plots for revenge by promoting multiple sibling entanglements making him both convincing as a villain, and likable.

While actor Andrea Rankin, as the young Cordelia, does play the doe-eyed daughter well, there is something a little grating about her over the top sweetness that came off as insincerity near the end. It seemed as though her tone and countenance changed little whether responding to a marriage proposal or being angry at her father’s mistreatment.

The Shakespearean world of King Lear, so artfully woven by the troupe of Theatre Calgary actors, doesn’t seem very far off from our own world, which is perhaps why the play still feels so relevant. These themes of undying devotion, betrayal and greed still saturate news media, television and movies because they are reflections of human reality and frailty.

Getting through the more slow-paced first half is well worth the wait. The explosion of passion, blood and revenge in the second half leaves you completely sated in a way only an excellent acting troupe and script can do.

Here’s a scene.

Weather the Tempest and you will not regret the storm

Daniel J. Rowe

In the final trip to the Bard on the Beach for the Bard Brawl the Tempest awaited. It is an entirely unique play in William Shakespeare’s cannon and has the potential to be one of the most entertaining, provoking and touching. It can fall flat or be incredibly moving.

Did director Meg Roe pull it out under the tent?

To quote Omar from the Wire, ‘Indeed.’ (That was Shakespeare right?)

Meg Roe's Tempest finds the balance between wonder and soliloquy at Bard on the Beach. Photo credit - David Blue
Meg Roe’s Tempest finds the balance between wonder and soliloquy at Bard on the Beach.
Photo credit – David Blue

Roe’s Tempest executes the most difficult of things in live theatre: balance. The play bounces between incredible design, action, and intrigue and the subtle and powerful monologues of the play’s centre: Prospero (Allan Morgan).

Indeed the isle was full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that gave delight and did not hurt (wink), but first we have to get there.

Relinquishing solitude and embracing the brave new world is a wise model for theatre goers who should take in the Tempest. Photo credit - David Blue
Relinquishing solitude and embracing the brave new world is a wise model for theatre goers who should take in the Tempest.
Photo credit – David Blue

The staging of the opening ship wreck was very clever, loud, and set the play perfectly as it destroyed the ship carrying the King of Naples and left him and his crew on the island inhabited by the exiled wizard, his naive daughter and a sprite name Ariel (no, not that Ariel. She’s a mermaid).

The balance between stylized action and solitary poetry is the Tempest at its best, and Roe does not miss an opportunity to exploit this juxtaposition (even if she spells her last name wrong. Shouldn’t it be R-O-W-E?).

Morgan is great as the aging Shakespeare getting ready to say goodbye to theatre. Er I mean Prospero saying goodbye to the island and his daughter. He is lucky (or unlucky depending on your style), as he gets a handful of the most famous of Shakespeare monologues. You can bet there were a few nights when a few theatre grads had copies of the text in hand and mouthed along to:

Our revels now are ended.

These our actors, as I fortold you, were all spirits and

are melted into air, into thin air.

Gotta love theatre grads. Wait a second. Most of the cast is theatre grads. Forget I said anything.

The only thing I can ask for is what Morgan was able to give me. Even though the lines were familiar and I knew they were coming they still had that sad melancholy of an artist hanging up his quill. He made them memorable and meaningful. It’s especially difficult to draw and audience in to that level of intimacy after some of the spectacle scenes that preceded and followed the lines.

And the spectacle can’t be understated. Roe’s Tempest is full of some really incredible design and style that added as much magic to the island as any Puck infested forest.

Speaking of whimsy and wonder, Ariel (Jennifer Lines) has a dramatic and powerful presence throughout the play. She pulls a little Galadriel out in one of the most impressive scenes of the whole production. Shivers.

Go see the play. You’ll get it.

Props has to also go to the Miranda (Lili Beaudoin) as Prospero’s naive daughter flitting around the island after love of her life (you know, the third guy she’s met in her life) Ferdinand (Daniel Doheny), while having her eyes opened to the brave new world (wink) that awaits her. Oh that world is a bunch of conniving, back-stabbing, flaky aristocrats Miranda. Sorry. Welcome to reality. Have a wonderful wedding.

Trincula (Luisa Jojic) and Stephana (Naomi Wright) threw me off a bit, but showed their quality in the end; just like Faramir. The jester and drunkard were great at playing off Caliban (Todd Thomson), and gave the audience a more than a few laughs even if they were of the ‘ha ha she’s drunk’ variety. For me, I could have taken a little less from the scenes, but, hey, who am I to criticize what everyone else is enjoying? More poop jokes!

Ariel pulls out a little Galadriel in the midst of the Tempest, no complaints here. Photo credit - David Blue
Ariel pulls out a little Galadriel in the midst of the Tempest, no complaints here.
Photo credit – David Blue

Sitting waiting for the play to start both myself and my brother noted the set. The design was perfect. Not too much, not too bare. The players worked their way through the set with ease, and were able to shine and wind their way through the design. The trap door was used sparingly and to great effect.

On a side note I would like to congratulate myself for not geeking out when I saw sound designer Alessandro Juliani walk by before the play. It’s hard to resist bringing it up, and insist on going over some of the decisions Felix Gaeta made in season four of Battlestar Galactica. He used to come into a restaurant I managed in Vancouver about seven years ago. Very nice guy. What a great show.

The Tempest is one of those plays Shakespeare theatre troupes can’t resist adding to the bill especially in the summer. The play can be very entertaining or mind-numbingly boring based on choices the director makes and the performances that accompany. Bard on the Beach pulled this one off not adding too many overly clever bits and adding just enough style for the wow factor. Props to the cast and crew.

Do yourself a favour if you’re in Vancouver between now and the end of September and check it out.


Equivocation packed with energy and intrigue on the beach

Daniel J. Rowe

(Read in honest trailer voice) An attempt on the king’s life has been made, a plot is unveiled, the traitors are captured and the kingdom must be calmed. The hopes of all England ride one one man, a man who can sway the public and restore order.

He is…

A playwright?

William Shakespeare goes from writer to character at Bard on the Beach's production of Equivocation by Bill Cain. Photo credit - David Blue
William Shakespeare goes from writer to character at Bard on the Beach’s production of Equivocation by Bill Cain.
Photo credit – David Blue

Vancouver, BC’s Bard on the Beach sole non-Shakespeare written play for 2014 is Bill Cain‘s Equivocation, a perfect fit to the season even if the play is not a curtain-t0-curtain masterpiece. Director Michael Shamata puts on a thoroughly enjoyable and energetic piece on the Bard on the Beach studio stage.

Rather than the author of the play, William Shakespeare or Shagspeare (Bob Frazer) is the central character struggling late in his career to, well, write a play.

Think Shakespeare in Love, Jacobean Style.

In Cain’s play, we have the dark and serious playwright reflecting on a career built on piling up bodies on stage, rewriting courtly love, changing the nature of the theatre forever, and altering history with a hump here and there. He is under pressure to equivocate from political pressures in King James I’s court that want him doing more of what they want. They get it. The play is the thing. It can change things.

Shagspear (Bob Frazer) given lessons on the shady grey area of truth by Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian). Photo Credit - David Blue
Shagspear (Bob Frazer) given lessons on the shady grey area of truth by Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian).
Photo Credit – David Blue

The machiavell of the the play is Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian) who would like Shagspeare and his players to write the very current history of the gun powder plot of December 1605 in which a group of Catholics most notably Guy Fawkes (yes, the guy from V for Vendetta) sought to destroy parliament complete with the intolerant Scottish king in it. Can the greatest playwright in all of English history pull the play out, or is his quest for the capital ‘T’ truth to much of a barrier?

Who’s telling who lies? Who is really behind the plot? What are the characters’ motivations, and why are they motivated to act them out?

Consider the question central in the play:

The Spanish army invades England and a soldier is at your door asking if the king is hiding within. He is. Do you remain loyal to the crown and lie to save the king or do you tell the truth and betray he you swore to protect?

You may want to use the subtle art of equivocation.


verb \i-ˈkwi-və-ˌkāt\

: to use unclear language especially to deceive or mislead someone

Thank you Merriam-Webster.

Cain, a Jesuit himself, is incredibly clever for the most part, weaving Shagspear’s crew of actors, King James’ politicians, clerics, and the playwright himself together to tell the incredibly complicated, but thoroughly enjoyable plot.

*Spoiler alert: he writes Macbeth.

Actors, like in Bard on the Beach’s Cymbeline, play multiple roles sometimes swapping costumes onstage. On the whole the players pull off the swaps with accuracy and style, and rarely do the roles blend into each other.

A chink that stood out in the armour of Cain’s play is the side plot involving Shagspeare’s daughter Judith (Rachel Cairns), whose scenes lack the energy and pop of the rest of the play. Cairns is a fine actress and it’s unclear whether the 21st century sarcasm her character broods the stage with is the fault of the script or the performance. I want to say it’s the former. The “I hate soliloquies” lines are a little weird as they’re typically uttered while she delivers her various soliloquies. There’s also an odd line near the end where she says that after “the Scottish Play” (ha, ha. Theatre people are superstitious about saying ‘Macbeth), her father only wrote six more plays. Six more? Those plays were Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline, Winter’s Tale and the Tempest (maybe Pericles). King Lear’s also around that time. Just those six? I can think of a playwright or two that wouldn’t mind if that list was their complete canon. She is meant to be the Debby Downer to the Bard, and winds up being the same for the audience.

Judith (Rachel Cairns) struggles to keep the energy left on the stage by her fellow players. Photo credit - David Blue
Judith (Rachel Cairns) struggles to keep the energy left on the stage by her fellow players.
Photo credit – David Blue


The Judith scenes might have been a bit more forgivable if the rest of the play wasn’t so intriguing, full of fine pace, and entertaining. The scenes between Shagspeare and Cecil are very strong and bursting with wit, as is the theological back and forth between Shagspeare and Father Henry Garnet (Gerry Mackay). Mackay pulls double duty as Shagspeare’s forever partner and friend Richard Burbage, and is great in both roles.

Oh and there’s a few heads that get cut off on stage. Always dramatic.

Bard on the Beach was wise to chose Cain’s play for 2014. Having one play that addresses the man rather than the work is always a treat. Those in Vancouver who sit in the ‘I don’t really get Shakespeare’ lawn chair would do well to check this one out, as well as those who sit on the ‘what was it really like in Shakespeare’s time’ hardback chairs.

It gives a great glimpse into a vision of what the time may have been like, and the struggles of an author to produce work that is both true, poetic and will have lasting appeal.

You know, unlike a few parts of the Henry VI trilogy.


Would you equivocate for your king?  Photo credit - David Blue
Would you equivocate for your king?
Photo credit – David Blue

Puck to Bottom a Midsummer Night’s Dream pops

Daniel J. Rowe

Steam punk, Chuck Taylors, umbrellas, a lion and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and you’ve got yourself the ideal play by English Renaissance playwright William Shakespeare.

Wait. What?

Bard on the Beach, like almost every theatre company, just can't resist the midsummer allure of a certain play. Photo - David Blue
Bard on the Beach, like almost every theatre company, just can’t resist the midsummer allure of a certain play.
Photo – David Blue

The Bard on the Beach started its successful run as Vancouver, BC’s premier Shakespeare performance troupe with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so it’s no surprise that in celebrating its 25th year, the players were at it again.

Actually, it’s no surprise that any troupe is doing the play during the summer; it gets put on a lot.

It’s glaringly obvious why. Midsummer has fairies, love triangles, wacky actors, and invites a style directors like Dean Paul Gibson can push and play with. Bard on the Beach has done the play six times now. Gibson’s done it twice. This one’s got a marionette.

A certain Brawler who may or may not be me, and another who may or may not be the other c0-creator of the brawl often gripe about the fact the play gets put on way too much. However, every time either of them read or see the play, they admit that it’s a pretty fun play. Gibson’s is no exception.

The Bard on the Beach production amps up the pop music, goes all-in on a melange of styles for the costumes, and misses no opportunity to push the whimsy and fun of the play. My dad and sister, who admitted to never liking Shakespeare, and who would rather pay for a six pack than a ticket to a play, both LOVED the production. My sister couldn’t believe how funny it was.

Purists poring over heavily dogeared and highlighted copies of the play probably will complain about Gibson’s use of Top 40 songs and some of the style choices. They complain about most things. Can’t please everyone. So it goes. Back to the library with you.

One critical friend of mine thought the choices bad, and suggested the director added the music to draw a bigger audience. Maybe. Then again, Midsummer always draws an audience.

Founding Bard on the Beach member Scott Bellis steals every scene his has in Midsummer. Photo - David Blue
Founding Bard on the Beach member Scott Bellis steals every scene his has in Midsummer.
Photo – David Blue

Bottom (Scott Bellis) and Puck (Kyle Rideout) steal the show. Both actors chew up the scenery when onstage, and act head-to-toe with the energy that must make all directors feel warm at night.

Bellis, as ‘lead’ in the theatre troupe rehearsing for the wedding of Duke Theseus (John Voth) and Queen Hippolyta (Adele Noronha), is a standout missing no chance to push his farcical talents. His hair, makeup and costume only add to the character.

Rideout, as the fan favourite Puck, wears that tutu and pair of Chuck Taylors like a pro. Though purists will not appreciate the selfie he takes when accidentally self-medicating with a love potion herb, the audience loved it. In a particularly clever scene as the play is coming to a close that even the ultimate purist will appreciate, Puck mimics walking a tightrope down the middle of the stage cleverly highlighting the fine line between chaos and normalcy, love and hate, reality and fantasy, theatre and the real world: brilliant.

Eyeshadow, check; striped tights, check; tutu, check; time to play Puck. Photo - David Blue
Eyeshadow, check; striped tights, check; tutu, check; time to play Puck.
Photo – David Blue

The official program describes the plot as such:

Oberon, King of the Fairies, is upset with Queen Titania. He commands his servant Puck to produce a magical nectar that will cause love at first sight. The mischievous sprite arranges for Queen Titania to fall for Bottom, a simple weaver (now transformed into an ass) while hilariously misdirecting the affections of four runaway lovers.

Nothing is untrue in the description, but the more experience one has with the play, the more one gravitates to Bottom and Puck, and whatever they’re doing. The Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, and Helena cat-and-mouse/love potion stuff is fun, but is upstaged by Bottom and Titania (Naomi Wright), and their wierd fairy-loves-donkey, Puck orchestrated subplot. I won’t lie. Writing that sentence was fun.

Gibson also chose to stage the “Indian boy” as a marionette puppet, which was a very clever touch even if it was a little confusing to some in the audience like my dad and sister, who hadn’t read the play. The choice added to that blurred line between reality and fantasy the play is always treading.

The purist in me (yes he is there scowling and shaking his head all the time) did have a touch of pshah at the opening scene when Theseus delivers the following line as if he’s Romeo:

Hippolyta, I woo’d thee with my sword,
And won thy love doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.

I tried this line on a girl once. Big mistake. Not a ton of romance there.

Bard Brawl Sonneteer and ‘Zounds! contributor Maya Pankalla told me the other day the play was her favourite.

‘It’s just so me,’ she said.

Those that know this particularly talented recently married brawler/zoundser (sorry boys) will get it right way.

For those that don’t: Midsummer is a must see for all who like the bard, fairies, whimsy, comedy, romance, and donkeys whenever it is produced. The Bard on the Beach production adds marionette aficionados to the list, and pulls the whole thing off with style.

Go see it. You have until the end of September.

The fairies of Midsummer may draw you further towards chaos than you are comfortable with. Bard Brawl advice: let them. Photo - David Blue
The fairies of Midsummer may draw you further towards chaos than you are comfortable with. Bard Brawl advice: let them.
Photo – David Blue



A conversation with the director, Cymbeline

Daniel J. Rowe

Anita Rochon took on Cymbeline in all its facets from comedy to drama to action to romance and all else in between. Photo Credits: Rachel Cairns as Imogen Photo & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper
Anita Rochon took on Cymbeline in all its facets from comedy to drama to action to romance and all else in between.
Photo Credits: Rachel Cairns as Imogen
Photo & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper

The 2014 Bard on the Beach run included the not done often play Cymbeline. It’s a dramatic and exciting play that bounces between comedy, drama and sometimes shocking plot turns, and is one of the Bard Brawl’s favourites.

Director Anita Rochon discussed the production with the Bard Brawl.

Bard Brawl: Why did you pitch Cymbeline (to Bard on the Beach)?

Anita Rochon: It was a couple of things. It was a play that was really interesting to me and also interesting why it isn’t done very often… The last time it was done at Bard on the Beach was 2002, so I also saw that it wasn’t done in a long time, and with the particular casting breakdown I was working with, which was one women and five men (I asked for a sixth) because we were paired with Equivocation, I had to work within a particular cast breakdown, and I saw that Cymbeline had this women who was at the axis point of all these different narratives, so she really was the centre. That was a play that I could imagine staging with a smaller cast and having a women at the centre of it all.

BB: What was the direction you were trying to lead this play?

AR: One of the motifs and themes that was very strong for me in reading it was the idea that one can change. The idea that you may get forgiveness, that you may get a second chance. So the idea of changing, and changing identity, and not just going in disguise – as happens in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays – but even the idea that you sometimes have to change your idea of who you are in order to keep living in a way that’s satisfying, but also to receive forgiveness is something that I really emphasized, and took it quite literally to this idea of people changing identities right before our eyes.

BB: The one thing that I was surprised with was in the first half of the play, it was a lot lighter. Cloten and his mother, there were a lot of laughs where you or they pushed the humour. Was the difficult to rectify seeing as how dark it (the play) gets at the end?

The ensemble guides the performance of Cymbeline.  Photo credit - David Blue
The ensemble guides the performance of Cymbeline.
Photo credit – David Blue

AR: I think what every director does is just try and do what the playwrite is telling us to do, and so that’s what I was trying to do. I didn’t feel like I was attempting to push any humour. Shakespeare has written those weird scenes between Cloten and the lords where you get such a clear dynamic of how the whole kingdom thinks of Cloten, and the queen has those fantastic asides to the audience. She’s really written like an evil stepmother in fairytale tradition.

So many speak about how it’s such a crazy play, and has so many things: comedy, romance, drama, tragedy. The only way that I could understand dealing with that was just playing everything for what it’s worth. Just playing everything for how it’s written. We can’t squeeze the whole thing into being a comedy; why would we try?

I think there is a precedent for that now, we’re used to that now with shows like Game of Thrones or probably better example would be Breaking Bad where sometimes you have these scenes that are almost clown-like and then you have high drama, and then you have a stylized scene. A show like Breaking Bad has all of those things, and so I just tried to commit to each scene from what I understood from each scene and put them all together with a container of this ensemble telling us this story.

We see the ensemble coming out presenting themselves, presenting the narrative they’re about to tell us, and then, at the end, with that little button where Rachel Cairns (Imogen) takes centre stage again and finishes up the play, and then throughout with the ensemble sometimes sitting upstage, I just had to believe that the ensemble telling us the story that contained comedy, contained tragedy, contained drama, that if I played each scene for what it’s worth and asked the actors to do the same that we’d be okay.

BB: Everything in the production is almost monotone, greys and beiges, as far as the design goes, but the tempo is very fast. They move quickly. How did you get all of these elements to work together.

AR: I think I took it similar to how I was saying I took the scenes scene-by-scene. I probably took all the elements element-by-element. The costumes for instance, we based them off of fencing uniforms, for three reasons. I wanted the ensemble to feel like a team. I wanted them to feel athletic. I wanted the production from the very beginning to feel athletic and muscular and fast-paced, and sometimes masculine, but with a feminine presence in there. Certainly the Rome scenes I wanted them to feel masculine, so that kind of athletic, nimble feeling was a priority for me. I began to think, we need a base costume because they’re switching between all of these different characters, so what can I have as a base costume? The worst idea would be a black turtleneck and black pants.

I was scouring all these books, and I came across this amazing image of a fencing uniform from 100 years ago, and I thought, ‘this is really interesting’ because we immediately associate it with a particular time. It feels a little bit old timey without it feeling specifically old timey. It references a period without it saying, ‘this takes place in 1409.’ Yet it encapsulates a little bit of that team feeling, that play fighting feeling, that we’re going to play at something in front of you. Of course, fencing is in preparation for a real fight. Like this play is a representation of a reality or a true story.

In terms of colour, we just wanted a fairly neutral palate, so that those other costumes could live off of there, but also be complimented by it, and of course, fencing uniforms are in those light grey tones.

In terms of the set, I was really interested in highlighting the theatre in its raw form, so the stage really nice and bare, and we used similar material…

I kind of just went element-by-element, and then try to keep the look of it all similar. Keep it all clean and always ask myself, what is the essential here. Let’s try and boil everything down to its essential and not have a lot of extra props and extra props and extra sets.

Anita Rochon artistic co-directs The Chop in Vancouver with Emelia Symington Fedy, which has produced numerous new works including KISMET one to one hundred and How to Disappear Completely which continues to tour internationally. She frequently collaborates with some of the city’s most celebrated companies including Theatre Replacement, Théâtre la Seizième, Vancouver Opera and Electric Company Theatre. She is a graduate of Studio 58 (Acting) and the National Theatre School of Canada (Directing). Anita is the recipient of a Siminovitch Protégé Prize and a Mayor’s Arts Award.


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Bard on the Beach tackles Cymbeline; directed by Anita Rochon

Daniel J. Rowe

It’s romantic, it’s tragic, it’s funny, it’s violent and it’s intriguing and gripping from cover to cover.

Gerry Mackay's Cymbeline is stoic and angry, Shawn Macdonald's Queen duplicitous at Bard on the Beach. photo credit - David Blue
Gerry Mackay’s Cymbeline is stoic and angry, Shawn Macdonald’s Queen duplicitous at Bard on the Beach.
photo credit – David Blue

Vancouver, BC’s Bard on the Beach picked Cymbeline in 2014 as one of its four productions, and  this humble brawler let out a booyeah to be sure. It is one of Shakespeare’s most underrated, exciting and shocking plays.

It was the play I was most excited to check out this year, and the first one I took in.

Anita Rochon directs this late Jacobin-era Shakespearean play (fifth from last) set in the young Roman province of Britain during the imperial reign of Caesar Augustus at the Shakespeare festival this year.

Rochon pulls back with her choice of sets, costumes, and colours, and keeps things simple, while she pushes the energy and rhythm of the performance. She guides the ensemble cast like a team that fences its way through banishment, international struggle and redemption.

…and, you know, what happens to Cloten.

Dang this play is fun.

The six male actors swap roles and circle the female lead Imogen (Rachel Cairns), the daughter of king Cymbeline (Gerry Mackay), who tries along with his queen to force Imogen to marry her stepbrother Cloten and abandon her true love Posthumus that she’s already chosen. You know, standard boy meets girl then girl’s dad gets involved with new wife kind of stuff. Cairns is a standout in the production balancing the swirl of male actors that make up the rest of the ensemble with a steady and powerful presence on stage.

Anton Lipovetsky plays Posthumus, Cloten and Arviragus. Yep. All three. For those that haven’t read or seen the play, Lipovetsky is the romantic lead, the villain and the prodigal son in the same play. Yikes. Someone’s high school drama teacher is proud.

The audience’s laughs at the scheming queen (Shawn Macdonald) and bumbling Cloten soon dry up when the play takes a dramatic dark turn in the second half. I didn’t know what to make of the comedic tone when I first saw it. Cloten and his mother are Cymbeline’s answer to Joffrey Baratheon and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones; deceitful, despicable characters, and need a touch more evil running through their lines than Macdonald and Lipovetsky gave them I thought originally.

After thinking about it for a while, however, and speaking with the director, I kind of liked the chaos the contrast created. Rochon compared the play to Breaking Bad; sometimes funny, and sometimes so horribly tragic you want to close your eyes for the next week. I like the comparison.

The audience, at points, were laughing at lines and scenes that had no comedy at all. Now who’s going crazy?

Cymbeline/ jailor Mackay got a few of these, which kind of made me laugh. I’ve seen Mackay play Cassius, Alcibiades, Leontes and Achilles in various productions in past years, and was excited that he would be the king this year. He’s always an intense presence on stage.

Take those that were smiling and chuckling as Cloten delivered this monologue:

Posthumus, thy head, which now is growing upon thy shoulders, shall within this hour be off; thy mistress enforced; thy garments cut to pieces before thy face: and all this done, spurn her home to her father; who may haply be a little angry for my so rough usage; but my mother, having power of his testiness, shall turn all into my commendations. My horse is tied up safe: out, sword, and to a sore purpose! Fortune, put them into my hand! – Act IV, i

If you’re laughing at that, you may have already broken bad.

Shakespeare broke bad half a millenia before Vince Gilligan did in Cymbeline. photo credit -
Shakespeare broke bad half a millenia before Vince Gilligan did in Cymbeline.
photo credit – David Blue

Cymbeline is a crazy mosaic of plot points, locale switches, emotional shifts and reveals that come together so nicely in Rochon’s production I like it more and more as I think of it.

If you like to brawl with the bard (BING), you’ll like this play.

The crowds will always flock to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, and one of the joys of Bard on the Beach is that the troupe always balances the seat fillers with lesser known selections from the Bard’s cannon.

I sometimes wonder why great plays like Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida and Cymbeline aren’t more popular, but, in the end, that probably has something to do with why I like them so much.

Indie cred; always important in the oh-so-hip Shakespearean appreciation societies.

Those in Vancouver would do well to catch this production before the summer sun has left and the rain set in on the west coast.   Bard Logo triangle

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