Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan…Plays on Review

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July 23, 2018 - 11:00pm Updated: July 24, 2018 - 11:42am

Delightful disturbance and gore galvanized gorgeously in Titus A. puppet performance

It is understandable and probably for the best that Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan opted to use puppets for their adaptation of the tragedy that is Titus Andronicus this summer.

The company’s first foray into puppet theatre wastes no time diving into a violent world featuring blood, dismemberment, cannibalism and revenge played out masterfully with carefully crafted rod puppets.

The plot follows the Goth Queen Tamora, played by Kristi Friday, and her lust for bloody revenge on Titus, brought to life by Kenn McLeod, and the entire Andronicus family after they sacrifice her son.

Friday is a standout as one of the most masterful puppeteers and powerhouses vocally on stage portraying the chaotic dark mind of Tamora and her devious plans. Mackenzie Dawson is another standout in his showcase as emperor Saturninus and duelling voices as Tamora’s remaining living sons. He masterfully navigated voicing and manoeuvring both characters who were always on stage together.

Macleod, Carol Greyeyes and Jenna Berenbaum are equally memorable in their routine run-through of a multitude of characters.

The uniqueness of the performance can take some time to establish itself, but quickly the puppeteers fade into the background and the audience begins to solely concentrate on the puppets as the core performers on stage. Despite their static nature, one manages to become attached and invested in the puppets and the heightened production to include the gore of their deaths and torture adds to their appeal. It can be disturbing, but delightfully so.

A few times throughout the actors themselves become the momentary focus of the show, such as through notable character deaths, where blood packets are used to bleed along with them.

The pinnacle of this comes after Titus’ daughter Lavinia is assaulted and dismembered by Tamora’s sons. The grotesquely disturbing scene seems to drag on in a deafening eerie silence as Sarah Bergbusch hauntingly conveys Lavinia coming to terms with the violet decrepit state she has been left. Only the female performers remain on stage and weep in a dark shared sympathy as she moans in agony. It is a dark powerful scene that sticks with you throughout the night.

As the play progressed and the body count tailed up, each dead puppet was placed on hammocks hanging in windows high at the back of the stage as a lingering reminder to the audience. Most jarring is when Tamora’s sons are eventually tricked, captured, tortured, killed and cooked, and their well-done torsos are hung like pigs on a rack.

Oh, and one cannot forget to discuss the jarring, realistic sex scene played out that requires four actors on stage to convey.

Adding to the entire production is the chilling cellist work of Scott McKnight, who is perfect each time he either strums a lifting tune to carry a change in scene or digs the bow deep along the strings to make a screaming hair-on-end screech to parallel a death.

The show is a vexing masterpiece and an uncommon can’t miss this summer at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan you won’t soon forget. This show is recommended for those aged 16 and up due to its graphic content and disturbing nature.

Productions run until August 19. Tickets can be bought from Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s box office to experience riveting and inventive theatre on the shores of the South Saskatchewan.

Don’t forget to check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Powerhouse performances add rousing rigour to Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s Hamlet

Patrons couldn’t stand fast enough to applaud the masterful production of Hamlet at this year’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan.

From the rumbling of the stage awash in red light for the opening scene where the ghost of Hamlet’s father, played by Kevin Williamson, glides haunting about, the ramped up production value in Hamlet promises to send chills down your spine and tease at the treachery to come.

The story follows Hamlet decent into derangement along to his ultimate demise after he learns from the ghost of his father a plot by his uncle, also played by Kevin Williamson, to murder the king, seize the queens love and the crown. It is a well-known Shakespearian write of meticulously crafted tragedy, deceit and death centred around a royal house in complete disarray.

Skye Brandon, the clear standout, showcases his mastery and broad understanding of the literature in his powerhouse performance as Hamlet. He methodically navigates the peaks and troughs of chaos abound in Hamlet’s mind as he grapples with madness to seek revenge for his father's death. The handful of monologues and nuanced text gifted to Hamlet are confidently understood and executed by Brandon, elevating the entire production.

As is the norm with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, some gender-blending comes into play. The subtlety of the changes adds just enough of a personal brand to set apart one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.

Most notably, the swap of Polonius to a woman, brought to life elegantly thanks to Deborah Buck, adds emotion and more humanity to the mother-daughter relationship between herself and Ophelia. The mumblings and tottering of the character are skillfully portrayed by Buck.

Laertes, played by Elizabeth Nepjuk is also portrayed as what can be assumed as non-binary as no pronouns are references her way. The changed does little to impact the story, though Nepjuk is stunning in her portrayal of melancholy turned to rage and revenge upon her learning of her mother's misfortunate slaying.

Jacqueline Block’s Ophelia is likewise brought to life with proficiency and she compasses her way through the course relationship with Hamlet and the death of her mother when she emerges in a tattered blood red dress and black jacket filled with distress and heartbreaking misery as she spirals into self-torture and demise.

The Nordic style costuming hints at a time vaguely period but suited well for the performance. Though the two instances where cell phones are introduced — first when Laertes departs in what is portrayed to be an airport and again in the hands of Hamlet — can be jarring, but are trivial blemishes.

The final scene, fit with rapiers echoing throughout the tent, is a standout and well worth the wait as Williamson, Brandon, Nepjuk and Heather Cant, who plays queen Gertrude all peak as they succumb to poor execution of the bloodshed of Hamlet.

Overall, the polished production comes together in a top-notch performance for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. Even for those who have enjoyed a prior rendition of Hamlet here or elsewhere, the strong, near effortless performances add a rousing rigour to a classic.

Productions run until August 19. Tickets can be bought from Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s box office to experience riveting and inventive theatre on the shores of the South Saskatchewan.

Don’t forget to check them out on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

A merry night plays out on the banks of the South Saskatchewan

From clothing one sees confined to racks at a fast-fashion outlet, a same-sex romance and even a dab, director Greg Ochitwa takes the modern adaptation of a Shakespearean classic to new heights.

Most notably altered by Ochitwa, but not overly so, in Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, was to turn Master Fenton, a suitor of Miss Page, into Mistress Fenton. Elizabeth Nepjuk masterfully executes the crossover, exhibiting a gracious pursuit for love that pales that of the other two wishful men.

Kenn McLeod is one of those suitors, Dr. Caius the Frenchmen, and bears an accent acceptingly over the top and is quintessentially pomp. Slender, played by Mackenzie Dawson, brings the humour in a meek and awkward young man not eager to marry, but is relentlessly forced to give chase by his uncle and her father.

This subplot is weaved among the comedic antics of two very merry wives, Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, hazing Sir John Falstaff, who is conspiring to seduce the wealthy women as his own coffers run dry. Heather Cant and Kate Herriot are near perfect in the strong female roles. Each is awash in elegant wit and trickery as they execute humiliating tomfoolery upon Falstaff and take delight in their cunning schemes.

Joshua Beaudry, a returning favourite from years past, is a definite standout in his role as Falstaff. Sporting hip-hop style clothes — a ball cap, camouflage shorts well past his knees and gold accessories — Beaudry brings the goon to life, able to parlay Falstaff’s blind lust, relentless pursuit of love and routine lines of sexual innuendo into quick comedy that brings unblemished humour among the crowd.

Mr. Ford, played by Jaron Francis, showcases a husband encased in jealousy and insecurity as he frets his wife may actually be intrigued by the pursuit of Falstaff. His numerous attempts to intercept his wife’s infidelity are met with light tones as he remains aloof to her conniving antics. Even when he becomes enraged, he remains one unwilling to bat a fly.

The show does lack one standout comedic complication, though the trifecta of humiliations that meet Falstaff are pillars of the production and provide ample laughs. The first involves Falstaff shoved into a dirty laundry hamper and dumped into the Thames. He returns fiery mad and shotguns a bottle of booze in a few gulps — an impressive feat — that receives applause from the crowd. Next, he is dressed and disguised as an old woman and beaten by Mr. Ford. He finally is duped by the entire cast and nearly scared to death by haunting melodic fairies in the forest.

The production has a fast-paced appeal, and the seasoned, returning and first time performers alike play off each others energy and wholly embrace their roles throughout, adding to the enjoyment. The lines are executed with clarity and the production is well polished with few lingering scenes. The periodic audience engagements also add to the experience.

The production is a perfect choice for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan's goal and fulfils the mantra of modern renditions of beloved favourites and something worth taking a look at. It can easily be enjoyed by young and old and will offer a merry experience for patrons well versed in Old English fun or those wanting to test the waters of Shakespearean theatre.

Productions run until August 19. Tickets can be bought from Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s box office to experience riveting and inventive theatre on the shores of the South Saskatchewan.

Don’t forget to check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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