A Midwinter Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Malachite Company has been doing Shakespeare in Edmonton for four winters now, and what a treat it has been to have Old Strathcona’s grand old Holy Trinity Anglican Church filled up with light and laughter and warmth and a few bits of Elizabethan tragedy each January. Last night the fourth Malachite winter and the first Winter Shakespeare Festival got off to an uproarious laughfest of a start with the first performance of an out-of-season Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was fortunate to go to this perennial Shakespeare favourite with someone who had never seen the Dream before (and to sit a pew in front of “Meg”, who also had never seen the play before, and who somehow became dear to the heart of Nick Bottom over the course of the performance). If this Dream had been my first experience of A Midsummer Night’s Dream what a joy it would have been (instead of that fairly ordinary thing I saw as a teenager with a man named Patrick Stewart playing Oberon).

The Malachite Dream is a joyous party of dance and song, thanks to Musical Director and Titania/Hippolyta Danielle LaRose and a cast of twelve others that put their whole hearts into filling the sanctuary/stage to bursting with happiness.

The Titania/Hippolyta Oberon/Theseus (Brennan Campbell) split rolls are handled economically and effectively with simple costume changes. Campbell’s Oberon very satisfyingly combines an air of noble control over his fairy-pranks with a quiet sense of confusion as he sees Puck’s (Colin Matty) errors send the fairy king’s plans spiralling into (in the end, harmless) chaos (as they both sit watching and eating popcorn).

Emily Howard & Owen Bishop and Sarah Louise & Liam Coady as the two pairs of young lovers, the material of the fairy-made confusion, do a remarkable job of making what are in large measure stock characters into individuals that we remember very distinctly the morning after the play. Very charming, each in their own way.

Of course, the play-within-a-play of the Rude Mechanicals is at the centre of the production, whatever the nobles and fairies may try to do. And, again, each cast member manages to take a very conventional character and bring out a very human individuality and even a bit of pathos. Chance Heck’s performance as Snout playing “Wall” is a surprising piece of dramatic eloquence. And the moment when the Nobles, now a part of the audience, poke fun at Anna MacAuley’s Starveling playing the Man in the Moon — a moment that could be a bit of painful cruelty, is turned around nicely, there is a moment of empathy across classes between Theseus the King and Robin Starveling, the young tailor.

All the above makes the Malachite Midwinter Midsummer Night’s Dream worthwhile, but . . .

Monica Maddaford’s Bottom is absolutely to die for! Clutching a copy of Melvin Bragg’s biography of Laurence Olivier, Maddaford rolls her eyes and chews the scenery and milks each scene both over-the-top and to just the perfect extent. Her performance is —  by itself —  a very worthwhile play-within-the-play-within the play. A fine and winding line between going to far and not going far enough is walked here by Maddaford, and she walks it perfectly without a slip. And on opening night, for goodness sake!

Much more could be written about this opening night, but better to just tell you to get down to Old Strathcona and enjoy the real deal!

The Winter Shakespeare Festival continues until the beginning of February. Julius Caesar will join A Midsummer Night’s Dream on January 9th. As well, the Festival will include two staged readings of a pair of little-known Elizabethan plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, The Witch of Edmonton and The Merry Devil of Edmonton. These readings will occur on the evenings of January 22 and January 29 at 7:30. Full disclosure: I have had the pleasure of adapting the Witch and the Devil specifically for the Winter Shakespeare Festival.

Witches. In a Church. On a Winter Evening.

                               Wyrd oft nereð
unfaégne eorl      þonne his ellen déah.
Beowulf

There’s something magical about walking through an Edmonton winter evening snowfall to live theatre.  Strathcona theatre-goers are blessed to have available to them the walking part.  But all of Edmonton is blessed by The Malachites (and their friends at The Grindstone) and their hosts, Father Chris Pappas and the Holy Trinity Anglican community who bring us the now-annual winter tradition of Shakespeare in a most beautiful space.  This year it’s a riveting, tempestuous, three-hours-in-a-hard-church-pew-that-feels-like-an-exhilarating-forty-five-minutes-in-a-comfy-chair psychological thriller called Macbeth.

Director Benjamin Blyth has his Anglo-Albertan Malachites fill the space of Holy Trinity’s sanctuary with both external and internal struggles with swords and ambition, drawing the audience in (“come, come, come, give me your hand” says Danielle LaRose’s sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, and she crouches to take an audience member’s hand).  Swords clash, blood flows (a little), and we all, characters in terror and audience in fascination, seem inexorably pulled along by the spun, spinning, and yet to be spun life-fate-threads of the Wyrd Sisters (Monica Maddaford, Jaimi Reese, and Kaleigh Richards).  Sarah Karpyshin’s set design has T-shaped risers thrust the action into the audience down the nave of the church while also dividing this “public” space from the characters’ “private” space in the choir.  And the Witches are ever enveloping all with eerie sound from the aisles.  And so, I must mention the remarkable musical selections and sound design by Danielle LaRose wearing her non-Lady Macbeth hat.

The battle and murder scenes show off Janine Waddell’s wonderful fight choreography without unnecessarily bathing the stage in blood.  (Full disclosure: Ms. Waddell very generously provided fight training for the cast of Guenevere at the Fringe last year, so I’m biased. And some of the sword’s in Macbeth look comfortably familiar.)  Dana Luebke’s costumes are exquisitely Medieval and provide effective shorthand for identifying more minor characters played by doubling-up supporting actors.

Yes, some of the supporting actors are a touch too quiet at times, but there ends my negative criticism. Colin Matty’s Banquo is a twin-like complement to Byron Martin’s Macbeth, Bob Greenwood turns in stalwart and varied performances as Duncan, the Porter and a few other character parts. Young Anna MacAuley is charming in the dual child rolls of Macduff’s daughter and Banquo’s son Fleance (watch for her magical apparition in the “Double, double, toil and trouble” scene).  And all the rest do some enchanting things with very original tableaux and expressive backchat.  No matter where you glance, there always seems to be something fascinating happening.

Of course, the centre of the play is the descending spiral of LaRose’ Lady Macbeth and Martin’s Fate-marked Thane of Glamis.  They are wonderful, and — those eyes! On both of them.  Through all their terror, rage, determination, indecision, ambition, laughter, madness, and, yes, moments of tender love, LaRose’s bright and Martin’s melancholy, the eyes of these two brave, tragic souls so marked by the Wyrd spinners of Fate will haunt you as you walk home through the snow.

 

Go see Macbeth.

Wednesday to Sunday at 7:30 until January 19th at Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

 

Malachite Theatre’s Epiphany at Holy Trinity Anglican Church

It was a bitterly cold night outside Old Strathcona’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church, but so wonderfully warm and cozy in the Christmas tree (and empty wine bottle)-filled Sanctuary in which the Malachites gave us a laugh-filled and tender gift of a remarkably fresh yet faithful treatment of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Years ago at the Citadel (during the second season of the Shoctor Stage) I saw Twelfth Night with Brent Carver playing Feste and the great John Neville turned out in fairly conventional yellow stockings cross-gartered. As fine as those two long-ago performances were, Colin Matty’s remarkable Feste and Brann Munro’s hilariously unexpected, outside-the-box, and, in the end, heart-rendingly sympathetic Malvolio set a new, very high bar for Twelfth Night.

Merran Carr-Wiggin’s Viola is charming to the point of jerking more than a few tears, Byron Martin’s Orsino is romantically melancholy but not at all lacking in strength, and Danielle LaRose’s Olivia glitters from the eyes to the toes as she transforms from melancholy to love-struck to pragmatically and gently happy. Perry Gratton and William Mitchell are everything Sir Andrew and Sir Toby should be, and Monica Maddaford’s prank-pulling Maria is a perfect, earthy, brainy, trickster string-puller . . . .

Oh, come on: they’re all so good and individual and memorable! Andrew Cormier’s Sebastian, Evan Hall in the dual roles of the Sea Captain and Antonio, Samantha Jeffery in her two roles of Fabian and Valentine, and Phillip Hackborn in his of Curio and the rifle-toting Officer.

And the music! Every single cast member is a singer, many take a turn at Holy Trinity’s grand piano, and Feste even pulls out a harp for one scene. The denizens of the courts of Duke Orsino and Olivia clearly throw themselves into this mid-winter holiday period and, indeed, into life itself. What a raucous romp!

Over a fairly short number of years, Holy Trinity has made itself into a vital part of Edmonton’s arts scene. The wonderful building is host to three venues for the annual Fringe Festival, and it hosts constant literary, dance, visual art, and theatre events.*

Holy Trinity is a phenomenon to be treasured and supported by the whole city.

Just before the play started this evening, Holy Trinity’s Rector (and cast member — he plays the Priest), Father Chris Pappas, started the festivities off with a first small wonderful gift: his hope that Shakespeare by the Malachites in mid-winter will become an annual event at Holy Trinity.

The addition of an annual mid-winter celebration of Shakespeare would be tremendous, but, please, don’t wait: — Twelfth Night continues until January 20th, 2018. Twenty bucks a ticket. Endless fun and tenderness. You won’t find a better entertainment value on any winter evening, cold or otherwise!

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I’m deeply honoured to have been a part of Holy Trinity’s first ArtSpirit festival in 2013.