Thursday, January 31, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas 

The play:                                           The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
Author:                                              William Shakespeare.
Number of characters
in text:                                               35
Number of characters in
Almeida Theatre production:            12
Number of actors
(who are on stage throughout):         8
Set:                                                    A grey box
Props:                                                half a dozen pails with water, blood and dirt
Playing time:                                     90 minutes with no intermission.

These are the facts of the production of Richard II directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins with Simon Russell Beale in the title role at the Almeida Theatre. They do not disclose the fact that it is an extraordinary production and an outstanding portrayal of the hapless King Richard by an actor who seems to have gotten under the skin of the character. 

Simon Russell Beale and cast. Photo: Marc Brenner 
Beale, dressed in a black t-shirt and black pants with an almost comical crown on his head, presents Richard in all his fundamental weakness, his vacuous arrogance and his insipidity.  Richard in his pathetic shallowness believes that he has been appointed king by God and no human power can remove him from that position.

Beale displays these attitudes and characteristics of Richard without bombast or pomposity. He is God’s chosen and cannot conceive how anyone can question his authority.

The inept king and incompetent leader who wears a hollow crown on an arrogant head is finally defeated by the capable Henry Bolingbroke who becomes Henry IV. Richard delivers a kind of dirge on his life in his final soliloquy which is delivered by Beale with incomparable poetic musicality.

Leo Bill as Bolingbroke provides the necessary contrast to Richard. He is a true leader, decisive, ambitious, efficient and ruthless. He has everything that Richard lacks including the smarts to show remorse at the death of the former king even though he wished it.

Joseph Mydell plays Gaunt and delivers the familiar “this royal throne of kings” speech without sounding like an old man who is about to die.    
 Simon Russell Beale and cast. Photo: Marc Brenner 
 Saskia Reeves plays Mowbray, Bushy, Green and the powerful Duchess of York while John Mackay plays her husband the Duke of York. Martins Imhangbe plays Bagot and the treacherous Duke of Aumerle while Natalie Klamar plays the Bishop of Carlisle. Robin Weaver plays the Earl of Northumberland.

As indicated the actors never leave the stage during the 90-minute duration of the performance and their presence provides a unified picture of the production that is engrossing. Outstanding performances from beginning to end.

The play has been dramaturged by Jeff James and the result with the eight actors on stage is a seamless and quick transition from one scene to the next without losing the central plotline or the strength of this outstanding production.

Hill-Gibbins gives us a Richard II pared down to its essence. He has drawn out the soul of the play and the results is Shakespeare and theatre at their best.

Richard II by William Shakespeare continues until February 2, 2019 at the Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, London, England.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Can you stage William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night for 10+ year olds and make it entertaining? The initial reply may be “good luck” but that holds only until you have seen what Southwark Playhouse does with the play. Southwark Playhouse is a tiny theatre in the Borough of Southwark in east London and they are planning to show Twelfth Night to some 1400 school children for free. They inform us in their programme that most of those young people will be going to the theatre for the first time. Applause, please.

They are doing Twelfth Night in a shortened version, an hour and a half, if you will, with half a dozen actors playing about a dozen roles. Unorthodox, exuberant, bizarre, call it what you want but this is a production for young newcomers and not for gray-haired veterans with pre-conceptions or worse.

 Let’s get started. Some of actors are playing music and making a hubbub in the playing area which is the size of a big bedroom. There are five women and one man, and they introduce themselves and explain how we can recognize them in their roles. Becky Barry tells us that she will play Viola when she is wearing a hat and her brother Sebastian when she is hatless.

Sapphire Joy plays Olivia (no cap) and Orsinia, hat on. That is not a typo. Orsino is Orsinia. Carolina Parker is Antonia the Sea Captain and Sir Toby Belch. Liv Spencer is Valentina and Maria. Luke Wilson, the sole male in the cast, is Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio. Aruhan Galieva is Feste and she is an instrumentalist and singer as well. As you can see there is some gender confusion but let’s leave that for now.

Many scenes and lines have to be cut if the show is to be finished in an hour and a half with some singing and stage business to entertain us. We start with “if music be the food love” with Feste playing on the keyboard and move quickly to Olivia’s place where she is refusing to have anything to do with men. The young people and even the older attendees one hopes, can keep up with the fact that Olivia and Orsinia are played by the same actor and not raise an eyebrow when they find out that Orsinia is madly in love with Olivia.

Viola impersonating a man arrives at Orsinia’s palace and we can feel amorous electricity between them. And that is nothing compared to the erotic current flowing from Olivia to Viola a.k.a. Cesario.

Twin brother Sebastian arrives just in time to avert Olivia’s passion away from his sister to himself and learn the meaning of the word bliss. Some people who took Twelfth Night in high school and can still remember a few things may point out that Orsinia and Olivia, and Viola and Sebastian appear on stage at the same time. How do we handle that? Director Anna Girvan and Southwark Playhouse think out of the box. Grab a member from the audience and put a hat on her – presto, you have an Olivia and an Orsinia. What about Viola and brother Sebastian? How quickly can Galieva get in the same costume as Barry?

The production is fast-moving. There is dancing, singing, athletics (Malvolio is very good at pushups) and general mayhem on the stage. You remember the confrontation between Viola and Sir Andrew where the two are bamboozled into an almost-sword-fight? There is no need for swords in this production. One of them gets a guitar and the other one a saxophone and the almost-duel is fought like that.

The actors are highly competent, and Girvan maintains discipline in the delivery of Shakespeare’s lines while organizing shenanigans for the rest of the production.

As for the gender confusion, Olivia and Sebastian, Orsinia and Viola found love and bliss and lived happily ever after. Vigorous applause.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare opened on January 19 and will play until February 9, 2019 at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD.

Monday, January 28, 2019


By James Karas

Sam Shepard’s True West is a play about vicious sibling rivalry but, as its title suggests, it also deals with the American obsession with westerns and consequently the American Dream, whatever that is.

Two brothers from a dysfunctional family meet in their mother’s house in southern California after many years of separation. Their mother is in Alaska and their father is a down and out bum.

At first glance, the brothers appear to be completely different. The bespectacled Austin (Kit Harington) is an Ivy League university educated writer working on a movie script. He is a scholarly and focused gentleman.
 From left: Kit Harington, Donald Sage Mackay and Johnny Flynn. Photo: Marc Brenner 
His brother Lee (Johnny Flynn) is a rough-hewn, vulgar, violent petty thief. He is so aggressive and menacing that we expect him or fear that he will strike Austin at any moment. In short, we have a drunken low-life and a civilized human being on the edge of the desert in California.

Saul (Donald Sage Mackay) comes to discuss Austin’s idea for a screenplay. The garrulous, uncouth and almost illiterate drunkard Lee intrudes into the conversation with a cockamamie idea about a western and Saul falls for it. Shepard ridicules the American idea of the western with its ludicrous plots.    

Austin loses his composure and becomes jealous and slowly violent at the thought that his Neanderthal brother has in effect replaced him. We see a complete transformation of the two siblings as one takes the place of the other and vice versa.

Their mother (Madeleine Potter) appears. She does not seem to have any effect on the violence that she sees in her children as they fight viciously.

Harington and Flynn do superb work as the two brothers. They must engage is some vigorous physical fighting and emotional highs as they move from one character extreme into the opposite.

Mackay and Potter as the producer (or is he just an agent?) and the mother are small roles that act as catalysts for the transformation and violence we see in the brothers as they change in front of our eyes.
Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn In 'True West.' Photo: Marc Brenner
The set by Jon Bausor consists of a kitchen, work area and sitting room in the first half which opens to show us the desert in the final scenes.

Director Matthew Dunster brings out the strengths of the play, especially the violent outbursts and destructive fight sequences. Flynn’s outbursts are scary. The end is ambiguous, but you may have a different opinion. No plot spoiler.

True West is not Shepard’s best play, but it is a highly respectable part of his work and the production is very much worth seeing.

True West by Sam Shepard continues until February 23, 2019 at the Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London, England.

Sunday, January 27, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Canadian Stage has very wisely staged a revival of the 2017 Stratford Festival production of Moliere’s Tartuffe. For those who did not see it, a masterly and thoroughly enjoyable production awaits them. For those who saw it, they get a repeat delight.

How is it done?

Let’s look at Chis Abrahams’s directing. He does not so much direct the production as choreograph it. He sets a brisk pace right from the start and he never lets it falter. Proper intonation and expression are essential but Abraham wants more than that. He requires physical agility, body contortions and movements that produce laughter over and above what is expected. His attention to detail does not allow any opportunity for laughter to escape him. This is simply masterly directing. 
Members of the company. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
He has a lot of help from a seriously talented cast.

Tom Rooney as Tartuffe is a man of boundless phony piety and seething lust for sex and wealth. He is such an extraordinary manipulator that he can tell the truth about himself, show remorse at swatting a flea and be caught trying to seduce Orgon’s wife without shaking the latter’s conviction of his piety. And Rooney is funny as he spouts godliness and swills wine.

Graham Abbey’s Orgon is an over-excited dupe who is willing to give his daughter, his wife and his property to the charlatan. Abraham has Abbey run, rant, do pushups and become frantic, all in successful attempts at evoking laughter.

Akosua Amo-Adem as the servant Dorine grabs our attention and laughter from her first appearance and never lets off. She is smart, she is mouthy and she is hilarious. Again, Abraham creates additional comedy by choreographing body language by Amo-Adem that is simply hilarious.

The love interest and youthful vigour are provided by Mercedes Morris as Mariane, Johnathan Sousa as her betrothed Valere and Emilio Vieira as her brother Damis. Michael Blake as Elmire’s brother Cleante is the logical counterbalance to Orgon.

Rod Beattie has the minor role of Monsieur Loyal, the sheriff who delivers the writ of possession for Orgon’s house. His lines are those of a process server but Beattie manages to get a few laughs even from them.
Maev Beatie as Elmire and Tom Rooney as Tartuffe. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Maev Beaty is simply superb as Elmire, the exasperated wife of the fool Orgon. She is highly alluring right from her first entrance and we soon realize that Tartuffe is lusting after her. She needs to rebuff him and then attract him in order to entrap him. The entrapment scene is perhaps the funniest scene in the play as she dodges Tartuffe and maintains his aroused interest in her.

Abraham uses Ranjit Bolt’s fluid 2002 rhyming verse translation of Tartuffe. Rhyming couplets can stick to actors’ tongues and sound awkward to the audience. In this case the translation propels the delivery of the couplets rather than hindering them. The pace is set by Rosemary Dunsmore as Mme. Pernelle in the opening scene. Like most of the characters, she has some long speeches but Dunsmore delivers her lines at a good clip and we are delighted to hear her.

Abraham could not resist adding a good number of references to current events and phrases from fake news, to make our country great again, to #blessed, to unfollow me, to vegan to lock him up.

The production is done in modern dress and set in present-day France judging by the music in the opening scene. The set by Julie Fox consists of a modern living room with a bar area and stairs leading to an upper floor.

Tartuffe by Moliere in a translation by Ranjit Bolt played from January 13 to 27, 2019 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E 1B4.

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Nine Night is a first play by Natasha Gordon and it is simply a gem. It has well-developed characters in a plot that is funny, human and dramatic. The action climaxes in a heart wrenching scene that you only see in superb productions.

The play is about the death and aftermath of Gloria, a Jamaican woman, in England. Her family gather in her house and Nine Night refers to traditional rituals associated with the funerals of Jamaicans.  The nine days of mourning include music, drinking, eating and welcoming mourners.
Oliver Alvin-Wilson, Natasha Gordon, Rebekah Murrell, Karl Collins and Cecilia Noble. 
Photo: © Helen Murray
We never see Gloria but we do meet seven members of her family. Her cousin Maggie (Cecilia Noble) and her husband Vince (Karl Collins), both in their seventies, arrive. Aunt Maggie is from the old school. She is opinionated, crotchety and simply hilarious. Cecilia Noble’s performance is simply stellar as she waddles around the stage and speaks in a Jamaican accent so thick that she was very difficult to understand. It made little difference because the richness of her intonation left no doubt about what she was saying, and she was both dramatic and funny.

That was not all. The deeply humane Aunt Maggie breaks into an old Negro spiritual near the end of the play that provides an amazing denouement to the play. I won’t give you more details lest I spoil it for you.                                               

Gloria had three children. Robert (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) is a businessman who is looking for money for his ventures even during his mother’s funeral. He is married to a white woman, Sophie (Hattie Ladbury) and he knows how hurtful bigotry can be. When he met Sophie’s mother, she looked at him as if her were an animal.

The voice of reason and the unifying force of the family is Lorraine (played by the author) who must deal with her daughter Anita (Adele James) who went for a degree instead of having children, according to Uncle Vince. She reminds him that she got both. She is the future of Jamaicans in England.

Gloria’s daughter Trudy (Michelle Greenidge) is a pivotal character in the play and she brings the fate of some immigrants into focus. Gloria left Trudy with her grandmother in Jamaica and that created permanent wounds in Trudy’s and Gloria’s psyche. Through her life and especially during her last days on earth, Gloria yearned and ached for the daughter that she left behind. She had Robert and Lorraine with another man. The pain and the longing as described seem to have been indescribably raw for Gloria.      
 Natasha Gordon, Karl Collins, Michelle Greenidge, Cecilia Noble
Photo: © Helen Murray
Trudy describes her own pain at being abandoned with her grandmother. Lorraine insists that their mother never truly abandoned Trudy and supported her financially and sent for her to come to England. Trudy screams “never” in a piercing voice that expresses the immeasurable agony of a child abandoned by her mother. It left me stunned and is one of the most heart-wrenching climactic scenes that I have seen in recent memory.

I have nothing but unstinting praise for director Roy Alexander Weise and the entire cast. Gorden has given us a snapshot of the life of Jamaican immigrants in England and a marvelous play that contains humour and drama that add up to a great night at the theatre.

Nine Night by Natasha Gordon had its world premiere on August 30, 2018 at the Dorfman Theatre in a production by the National Theatre. On December 1, 2018 it transferred to and continues until February 23, 2019 at Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


James Karas

The Cane in Mark Ravenhill’s new play refers to what turns out to be the most important and lethal instrument in the hands of a teacher. We quickly realize that Edward, who is retiring after 45 years of teaching, at one time used to cane some of his students. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was going to be a play about a pedophile who abused his authority over children and sexually assaulted them. In other words, the specialty of some Catholic priests. I was wrong.

Edward (Alun Armstrong) and his wife Maureen (Maggie Steed) are waiting for his celebratory retirement but there is a large number of students and former students protesting outside their house. A brick is thrown through their window and their daughter Anna (Nicola Walker) arrives and tries to unravel the reason for the protests and the rock through the window. 
Nicola Walker, Alun Armstrong in The Cane. © Johan Persson
It will take until the end of the play for us to determine the reason for the rock-throwing and more importantly to examine fully the three characters and their lives. We will witness a taut, well-structured and compelling dramatic work and riveting performances by the three actors. The Cane is a play that moves mostly backwards to give us revelations from the past and then leaps forward into an unexpected but shocking end.

Ravenhill has developed the three characters meticulously and their actions are completely understandable. Armstrong’s bravura performance as Edward gives us the portrait of a bully who is devoted to following the rules. If the rules call for a misbehaving youngster to be caned five times on the hand or his buttocks, Edward will do it with Prussian precision. He will then enter it on a ledger, insure that the permission of the child’s parents is included and even explain to the victim that he is doing it only to correct his behavior and not out of any malice. Everything is done according to the rules.

Anna is his only daughter and all evidence points to an inept parent who showed more regard for the cane that he used to punish boys than for his child. She grew up hating her parents intensely and left axe marks on the walls from a particularly bad fit when she screamed that she wanted to kill her father.

Steed’s Maureen is an apathetic woman who is bullied and humiliated by her husband. They never discussed having a child, but she became pregnant. The rearing of Anna was a disaster leaving her parents with nothing but hatred for her. They have had nothing to do with her for years.
 Maggie Steed and Anna Walker. Photo: John Persson
Anna is a smart and successful teacher in the Academy schools which, according to her, are connected to life and practical reality. She is raising her own children after her marriage failed. She displays a keen mind and complete self-control as she digs deeply into her father’s history as a teacher, a disciplinarian and a hateful person.

The facts come out slowly and methodically, but our attention never flags for a second. The number of protesters outside the house grows and Edward is finally forced to produce the cane that he used decades ago when caning was permitted. He wrapped the cane in a blanket and stored it in the attic of his house with care and almost affection one may say. If only he had shown the same regard for his daughter.

The set by Chloe Lamford consists of an almost unfurnished large room with some steps leading to the other rooms of the house and an opening to the attic. A painting of a charging elephant is visible on the back wall.

Director Vicky Featherstone shows masterly control of the action. She is so meticulous in maintaining the perfect pace that there is not a sing line or movement that does not keep our attention rivetted.

A thrilling performance of a marvelous play and a compelling night at the theatre.
The Cane by Mark Ravenhill continues until January 26, 2019 at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS.  

Monday, January 21, 2019


James Karas

For those who think that the Royal Shakespeare Company decamps from Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of its summer season and moves to London, they should think and look again. The RSC has fall and winter productions in both cities. In a quick visit I was able to catch Timon of Athens and Tartuffe in one day after a pleasant train ride from London.

Timon of Athens is in a class of its own as a play and scholars have determined that it is in fact a collaborative play by Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton written around 1607.

Timon is a wealthy Athenian who is almost pathologically generous and flamboyant. He entertains lavishly and gives gifts to just about everyone with staggering disregard for his financial position. He is surrounded by moochers and sycophants until his creditors demand payment.  
Timon's "friends" enjoying her generosity. Photo: Simon Annand  © RSC
He is not worried because he is sure that the people who enjoyed his largesse will come to his rescue but not one of them does. He goes bankrupt and becomes bitter and misanthropic. He moves out of Athens where he lives alone and curses humanity with unequalled vitriol.

The story of Timon is known from ancient sources especially from Plutarch but the information is limited. Timon may be from Athens but this may well be the first production that places him in Modern Greece. Unfortunately, the play’s creaky plot becomes a parable for the recent financial boom and bust of Greece that garnered much unpleasant and unflattering publicity.

Director Simon Godwin and designer Soutra Gilmour place Timon squarely in post-economic collapse Greece where his personal profligacy and the national spending binge resulted in personal and national financial ruin for Timon and Greece respectively.

Timon and most of the characters are played by women. Kathryn Hunter plays Timon.  She has a sultry, low-pitched voice and is quite exuberant during her spending spree. Her mooching guests wear expensive clothes, many of them emphasizing gold tones. The eccentric philosopher Apemantus (Nia Gwynne) and the revolutionary Alcibiades (Debbie Korley) are the exceptions.

Hunter does a fine job in the first half of the play when she enjoys her wealth and the adulation brought by her generosity. But when she loses everything and is seen digging outside of Athens, she does not exude the full force of her misanthropic fulminations and hatred. More power is required in delivering those lines.
 Kathryn Hunter as Timon and her creditors. Photo: Simon Annand  © RSC
Gwynne does a good job as the cynical Apemantus as does Korley as Alcibiades but most of the other characters are more types than well-developed human beings. Patrick Drury is the sympathetic and competent steward who counsels Timon wisely before his downfall and stands by him afterwards.

We hear a bouzouki and a band play and faux Greek music, and members of the cast do some (unconvincing) Greek dancing. There is a singer that sings a few bars of a Greek song as well as Alcibiades and his followers breaking into “Na paro to toufeki mou,” a cry against the Turkish occupation of old that was also sung by student protesters during the military dictatorship.

Timon of Athens is a seriously uneven play and every production is a bonus. The Greek angle taken by Godwin is highly interesting and with Brexit high on the agenda of British politics and Grexit not quite forgotten, there is an added political curiosity. The two collaborators of 1607 still deserve our attention.  
Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton continues until February 22, 2019 at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


James Karas

Christianity has its rich share of hypocrites and Moliere’s Tartuffe stands at the pinnacle of the profession at least in the theatre. Is there any reason to believe that other religions are suffering from a shortage of them? Not according to Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He asked Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto if they can update Moliere’s play to present day Birmingham, set in a Pakistani Muslim family. They did.

The Pervaiz family was doing just fine until the father, Imran (Simon Nagra), fell under the influence of the pious fraud Tartuffe (Asif Khan). As in Moliere’s play, Imran wants his daughter Mariam (Zainab Hasan) to marry Tartuffe. When his son Damee (Raj Bajaj) catches Tartuffe making untoward advances toward his attractive stepmother Amira (Sasha Behar) and reports him to his father, he (Damee) is banished.
 Asif Khan as Tartuffe. Photo: Topher McGrillis
The plot thickens along similar lines of Moliere’s 1664 original. There is no Sun King in Birmingham, but Gupta and Pinto provide a mouthy, spirited and funny Bosnian Muslim maid in Darina (Michelle Bonnard) who engineers a happy ending.

The overall result is funny and highly entertaining. Bonnard, vacuum cleaner in hand, manages to be hilarious every time she appears. She engages the audience, goes among them to vacuum and on seeing coats between rows asks if those people have not heard of a cloakroom. And she can quote the Qu’ran and outtalk Tartuffe.

Nagra as the idiotic dupe is comical especially when he is forced to hide in a couch while Tartuffe tries to seduce his pretty wife. Behar is the smart Amira, a woman who knows what she wants, how to handle a stupid husband and how to do a comic role.
Sasha Behar as Amira. Photo: Topher McGrillis
Equal kudos to Hasan, Bajaj and James Clyde as the not-too-bright friend of the family and a convert to Islam. Amina Zia tended to overdo it as the grandmother, but she got the laughs.

Asif Khan, beard approaching his navel, is the perfect holy man who wants nothing for himself and is serving Allah alone. He does get ownership of Imran’s house and business and wants his daughter and a piece of his wife but that should not detract from his honest piety. Caught the first time with Amira in flagrante delicto, using reverse psychology, he convinces the dunce Imran of his innocence.

Director Iqbal Khan maintains a good pace and stages the comic business well. He allows a few Urdu phrases and the odd Bosnian word which may add colour.
The production uses a band of musicians which plays several types of music and it is supposed to enhance our pleasure. It does not. It is unnecessary at best and annoying at worst.

In any event, this Tartuffe is thoroughly entertaining and a pleasure to see him hoodwink Muslims as well as he has been doing with Christians for more than three and a half centuries.

Tartuffe by Moliere in a new version by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto continues until February 23, 2019 at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


James Karas

I’m Not Running is the title of David Hare’s new play as well as the first message delivered in the opening scene where a PR man announces to the press that Pauline Gibson has no intention of being a candidate.

David Hare, the doyen of British political playwrights, weaves the personal lives of Pauline, a surgeon, and her one-time lover, lawyer Jack Gould, around the issue of the closure of a small hospital and the leadership of England’s Labour Party. A bit of sex, soaring political ambitions and a basketful of social issues are brought together to provide some good theatre
Siân Brooke and Alex Hassell in I’m Not Running. Photo: Mark Douet 
The lives of the two protagonists are examined from 1996 to today in non-chronological order. Pauline (Si  Brooke) and Jack (Alex Hassell) come from different ends of the social spectrum. He is the son of a brilliant star of the Labour Party, privileged, intelligent, self-assured, raised with all the befits of wealth and very ambitious.

She is the child of a poor, dysfunctional and violent family but is intelligent and ambitious, and becomes a surgeon. The event that catapults Pauline into public view is her opposition to the planned closure of a small hospital. Jack who is a member of parliament is in favour and in fact he has had a hand in setting the government policy to close small hospitals and replace them with large health centres that are more efficient.

Pauline takes on the fight to save the hospital and in effect the National Health Service and is supremely successful. As a result, she is elected to parliament  as an independent.

The sexual tryst that Jack and Pauline had while students is put on the back burner so to speak, but the stove is not entirely turned off. Hare brings in issues of national health, equality of the sexes, the problems immigrants face and politics in general.

Meredith Ikeji (Amanda Okafor), the child of black immigrants who has graduated from Oxford University has faced discrimination. Nerena (Brigid Zengeni) is a black surgeon who cares for patients but is politically inept. Pauline’s mother Blaise (Liza Sadovy) is an abused wife and an alcoholic dying of cancer.
Joshua McGuire and Siân Brooke. Photo: Mark Douet
Joshua McGuire as Sandy Mynott, Pauline’s PR man, is a highly sympathetic character doing the impossible job of speaking for an ambitious politician.
Everything leads to the climactic fight for the leadership of the Labour Party. Jack, a cookie-cutter candidate, has all the attributes to make him a sure winner. He knows the party from the inside, he has a perfect wife and an impeccable record if you ignore a couple of indiscretions.

Pauline was elected as a one-issue candidate, she is an independent MP and not even a member of the Party. How can she compete with Jack?

Jack and Pauline are very much alike despite surface differences and as such I did not find them fully developed characters. The other characters were not given enough scope apart from Sandy.

Director Neil Armfield and designer Ralph Myers use an empty stage for the press scenes and a room on the revolving stage for the interior scenes. There is generous use of projections where we see the main characters on large screens befitting their ambitions, I suppose.

I am not sure if more intimate knowledge of British politics, especially the state of the Labour Party may have added more depth to my appreciation of the play.

In any event, the final confrontation between Pauline and Jack is, of course, over principles, personalities and the fate of the Labour Party and the country.

The last words of the play will take you back to the opening scene and the title of the play.
I’m Not Running by David Hare continues on the Lyttleton stage of the National Theatre, South Bank, London, England.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Farce is a matter of taste.

This was perfectly illustrated by the reactions to the current production of The Play That Goes Wrong that is now playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

First there were the enthusiastic laughers. They came primed to enjoy a farce and they laughed at the exaggerated acting and every mishap, pratfall, near-miss and outlandish incident even if it was repeated a dozen times. They gave the performance a standing ovation.

There were the less enthusiastic laughers who found many routines genuinely (funny) but showed restraint on other occasions and were less keen on quite a few of the repetitive routines.
There was a small contingent who smiled a few times and maybe threw in a few laughs but their overall assessment was lukewarm, even negative. I did notice a few people leave during intermission, but they may have done it for reasons other than giving the production unmitigated thumbs down.

The plot? The Cornley University Drama Society is staging a whodunit called The Murder at Haversham Manor. The Cornley is not so much accident-prone as disaster- predisposed to and they suffer every stage calamity that the three authors could devise. And one must credit Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields with having very fertile imaginations. 

How disaster prone is The Cornley? Well, casting issues have forced them to produce the following famous plays: Two Sisters, Snow White and the Seven Tall Men, Cat and other gems like that.

The Murder at Haversham Manor is a play within a play-within-a-play and the title The Play that Goes Wrong may be considered an accurate description, a promise and for some perhaps a warning. As I said, it is all a matter of taste.

Charles Haversham (Yaegel T. Welch) of the manor is murdered or is found murdered when the “play” starts after we witness parts of the set collapsing preceded by havoc in starting the performance at all. Do we see Charles dead in the opening scene and see no more of him after that? Well may you ask, and no, I will not tell you.

A murder investigation needs an Inspector and we have the classic bumbler played by Evan Alexander Smith. Perkins (Scott Cote) is the indispensable butler Perkins. Charles has a brother, Cecil (Ned Noyes) who is having an affair with his (brother’s) fiancée Florence (Jamie Ann Romero) who (also) has a brother Thomas (Peyton Crim). And there is Arthur the Gardener played by Noyes. There is also the Stage Manager Annie (Angela Grovey) and the Lighting and Sound Operator played by Brandon J. Ellis.

The roles in The Murder are played by members of The Cornley who are named as such in the cast list for that play and then given credit as such in the cast list for The Play. Don’t worry about that, you won’t pay any attention to it.

The set collapses almost continually, scotch is given to drink numerous times and it is sprayed forcefully out of the mouth of the drinker every time. People are struck in the face or on the head by doors, windows and falling pieces of whatever is around. There is verbal humour, at times mercilessly repetitive. All these actions are done incessantly and with accelerating speed and increasing physicality.

Matt DiCarlo directs the tour company production based on the original direction by Mark Bell. Whatever your laughter quotient, you have to give very high marks for DiCarlo/Bell for directing and to Nigel Hook (design) for putting the show together and the cast for break-neck performances.

As for the rest, it is a matter of taste.

The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields opened on January 9, 2019 and will play until February 10 2019 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ont.  M5B 1V8. 416.872.1212 or 1.800.461.3333.