Monday, September 5, 2011
THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON IN ANNOYING PRODUCTION AT SHAW FESTIVAL
Reviewed by James Karas
J. M. Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton is a nice comedy that contains a mild send-up and critique of the British nobility at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is Shavian comedy minus the bite and verbosity of Shaw and could provide an entertaining night at the theatre. It is now playing at the Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake in a production directed by Morris Panych.
As you open your programme, you notice that the production has “Musical Direction by Ryan deSouza” and “Choreography by Valerie Moore.” Have they turned the play into a musical á la Pygmalion to My Fair Lady?
You peruse the cast list and find The Wolf, The Crow, The Hare, The Fox and The Crane. Have they turned the play into a musical fairy tale?
None of the above. Panych has added the birds and animals to act as a Chorus and do some dancing, including a rather fulsome routine at the end of the play. He has added snippets from about half a dozen songs and, of course, an orchestra to play them. He has moved the time of the play to 1920 from 1902. To what end, pray?
About the play. Lord Loam (David Schurmann) is a decent but slightly obtuse peer who reverses the roles of his household once a month by having his nose-up-in-the-air family cater to the servants. Crichton (Steven Sutcliffe), the butler, finds this objectionable because it is not natural to disturb the order of things. Masters are masters and servants are servants, as far as he is concerned.
Lord Loam, his three daughters, Ernest (Kyle Blair), a young and selfish aristocrat and Rev. John Treherne (Martin Happer) together with Crichton and servant Tweeny (Marla McLean) all end up on a desert island. Think of Gilligan’s Island, if you are old enough. They must fend for themselves and here inherent ability and character count and the structured and class-ridden society of England has no application. Sure enough, the highly capable Crichton rises to the top and he achieves dominance over the hapless and helpless aristocrats.
A couple of years later, they are all rescued and are returned to London where the old order is restored and Crichton becomes a deferential servant again. It is all good fun with some ribbing at the useless upper classes who are generous and liberal as long as they are obeyed.
Sutcliffe has mastered the manners and mannerisms of the faithful servant while in London and adapts to his position as master quite well on the desert island. Schurmann makes a good if somewhat dense peer. Blair typifies our image of the useless, arrogant young aristocrat and Happer is a nice vicar but no more useful than the rest of the upper class. Loam’s three daughters (Cherissa Richards, Moya O’Connell and Nicole Underhay) are typical of women in their position – lazy, selfish and beautiful.
Now for Mr. Panych. The addition of an orchestra and songs does not enhance the play though I am sure it adds quite a bit to the budget of the production. An utter waste.
As for the Chorus of animals and birds, they are at best annoying and one can use even stronger language than that. What in the world was Panych thinking by adding these idiotic characters?
Panych changes the time of the play from the beginning of the twentieth century, that era of splendour and glory for the aristocracy, to 1920. World War I had a devastating effect on all of Great Britain including the upper crust. It was hardly a time for role reversals and mild ribbing at the nobility. By that time they had proven their almost criminal incompetence by causing destruction on an unprecedented scale. Changing the date of the play is more than annoying; it is plain dumb.
Barrie’s play does sneak through all the dross put around it by Panych. You will enjoy the scenes when the animals are not around and the orchestra is resting. But we should not have to wait for such scenes. Less self-indulgence and thoughtless tinkering with the play by the director would have produced much better results.