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Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline: Illuminated Majestically at the Stratford Festival 2024

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Tom Patterson was a man of great vision. He was a Stratford, Ontario-born journalist who founded the Stratford Festival, then called the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, the largest theatre festival in Canada. He saw something in this small town that maybe no one else saw. Now his namesake theatre, the lovely Tom Patterson Theatre is home to two ultra-captivating and illuminating revivals, shedding light on two classics that sometimes can overwhelm and conquer others. But not here. Both productions; Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, are epic and transformative, digging into complex themes steeped in intrigue, with battles for control and power over others at their core. And both are delivered forth with a vision and preciseness that astounds and illuminates, ricocheting light and understanding that is seldom felt when watching these timeless tales.

Members of the company in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Directed with a magical force of nature by Esther Jun (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs), Shakespeare’s complex and daunting Cymbeline, contains plot points that could easily overwhelm and entangle those in charge. They twist and envelope, like tree roots in the earth, but here at the Stratford Festival, Jun expertly finds a way to unravel and expand the many threads that are so thick and entwined. So clear and determined is her stance that the resolution in the final scene, which generally feels endlessly complex and never-ending, is greeted with clever wit, so much so that the main queenly character voices the overwhelming onslaught of information with an exasperation that almost every audience member can fathom and engage with. Yet we are in it, giving ourselves over almost immediately after the first whispers that come within the smoke.

Oh lady, weep no more,” we hear, tunneling in from the depths of mystic destruction, as the play pulls us under its spell, thanks to the other-worldliness of both Jupiter, played by Marcus Nance (Stratford’s Frankenstein Revived), and Philarmonous, the Soothsayer, portrayed by Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks (Neptune’s The Play That Goes Wrong). We are enraptured in those first sharp strains of white light, detailed and dynamically delivered by set and lighting designer Echo Zhou (Tapestry Opera/Crow’s Rocking Horse Winner), and we bow our heads to their power.


Allison Edwards-Crewe as Innogen and Jordin Hall as Posthumus Leonatus in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou

Based on parts of the Matter of Britain, the dense legends that focuses their eye on the early historical Celtic British King Cunobeline, this Shakespearian tragedy (although some refer to it more as a romantic comedy) is crafted and ushered forward with full-blown epic style, worthy of a stage production of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, thanks to costuming by Michele Bohn (Stratford’s King Lear), the composer Njo Kong Kie (TPM’s The Year of the Cello), and sound designer Olivia Wheller (Factory’s Here Lies Henry). It feels as powerfully big and dense as its source, legendary and mystically, while unpacking emotional truths that feel authentic and human.

The gender shifting from King to Queen Cymbeline, played majestically by the always fascinating Lucy Peacock (Stratford’s Three Tall Women), now married to the evil conniving Duke, portrayed by Rick Roberts (Stratford’s R+J) in full fiendish delight, finds weight and credence in their mutual unraveling, dismantling concepts that go far beyond even Shakespeare’s grand and complex ideas. Emotionally centered around the secret marriage between the Queen’s daughter, Innogen, sharply portrayed by Allison Edwards-Crewe (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing), and the worthy, but low-born Posthumus Leonatus, dutifully played by Jordin Hall (Stratford’s Grand Magic), their act of love upends the court, as Innogen was orchestrated to wed the Duke’s only son, her stepbrother, Cloten, played flamboyantly by Christopher Allen (Tarragon’s Redbone Coonhound), and rally the land against the tribute-demanding Roman Empire.


Irene Poole as Pisanio with Rick Roberts as Duke in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

And that’s just the beginning of this complicated upheaval. By telling the interwoven tale of love, forgiveness, and the interconnectivity of all, “like the roots of trees“, Stratford’s Cymbeline, overflowing with the most talented of actors, magnificently finds clarity, as it speaks to the world at large. Moving through the in-humanity (and humanity) or trauma, war, misogyny, decolonization, and this abstract code of patriotism and nationalism, the cast; particularly the incredible Irene Poole (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs) as the mindful servant Pisanio; the seductive Tyrone Savage (Stratford’s Love’s Labour’s Lost) as the Roman schemer, Iachim; and Jonathan Goad (Stratford’s Spamalot), Michael Wamara (CS/Obsidian/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is), and Noah Beemer (Stratford’s A Wrinkle in Time), as the three honorable cave dwellers, Berlarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus, dig into the melodrama, as well as the authentic emotional attachment required to make this 3-hour play tick forward and engage. The play is unpacked with the boldness of separated lovers and stolen sons, imprisoned and banished, seduced and assaulted for chastity and heroic honesty.

Faith plays a tenuous part in the unraveling at hand, with the two lovers forced apart by parents unwilling to hear or engage, paralleling the soon-to-be-seen Romeo and Juliet, right down to the poison that isn’t exactly deadly. But the true art in this presentation is how smoothly and wisely it moves forward through the difficult web of plots and failures. The more seasoned company members know how to find the deeper subtleties within that knotty text, while the newer, younger members sometimes struggle with the emotional complexities tied within, but only slightly and in comparison. Yet it comes together, binding us into the ideas of forgiveness, compassion, and understanding, even as we swirl alongside the Queen in those last few moments of untangling and debriefing.

Lucy Peacock as Cymbeline (left) and Allison Edwards-Crewe as Innogen with from left: Julie Lumsden as Helen, Tara Sky as Queen’s Guard, and Caleigh Crow as Lady in Waiting in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Sara Topham as Hedda in Hedda Gabler. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

In the same manner that Jun orchestrated a compelling and understandable Cymbeline, director Molly Atkinson (Shaw’s Prince Caspian) unwinds the detailed Henrick Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler with a gentle force worthy of the epic guns unloaded and lent. Utilizing a compelling new version by Patrick Marber (“Notes on a Scandal“) from a literal translation by Karin and Ann Bamborough, this Hedda carries a bitter rage that rarely stays hidden or held but is casually shot out with a direct aim and purposefulness by a privileged beauty used to getting her way. Sharply defined by the wonderful nuanced Sara Topham (RTC/Broadway’s Travesties), Hedda, if she has to suffer in any way, shape, or form, will not do it in silence or on her own. Her boredom burns her from the inside out, shifting the light of frustration on two pistols in hand, fired casually at anyone she chooses to play with or against.

Dressed impeccably by set and costume designer Lorenzo Savoini (Soulpepper’s De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail) and drenched in epic light and shadows by designer Kaileigh Krysztofiak (Soulpepper’s Wildfire), the malice and rage find their home in the bare room and the precise stitching of the fabric of her creation, pulled at by outside passion, betrayal, devotion, and internal disappointment. Hedda is trapped, happily at one time by her father, but more then unhappily by her husband, the loving Tesman, portrayed simply and compassionately by Gordon S. Miller (Stratford’s Grand Magic).

Brad Hodder as Lovborg (left) and Gordon S. Miller as Tesman with Sara Topham as Hedda in Hedda Gabler. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Their marriage is one-sided and corrupt, created simply because Hedda felt it was time.Now, trapped in a marriage and a house that she does not want, feeling the mistake in every bone of her bored body, the soul of Hedda Gabler, now Hedda Tesman, the married woman, believes herself to be more the regal father’s daughter than her intellectual husband’s wife. She was once the detached privileged woman who enchanted the men of this town with her beauty and cool exterior, but now, disturbed by and within her marriage, she finds herself caged in a new house that, while being more extravagant than they can really afford, “smells like old lady” and death. And it will never bring her any contentment unless she seizes control.

Backed by a compelling soundtrack crafted by composer Mishelle Cuttler (Arts Club’s Someone Like You), the unbearable heaviness of her new life is dragged out slowly and cautiously, noted and displayed in the photos of a honeymoon that was more trying than passionate. The housekeeper Berta, played with a great attention to hesitant details of subservience by Kim Horsman (Stratford’s A Wrinkle in Time), and Auntie Juliana, meticulously portrayed by Bola Aiyeola (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs), showcase a realm and stature that Hedda can not tolerate. Newly married, unhappy, yet brilliantly bored and frustrated, this power-hungry and ultimately powerless Hedda finds silly pleasure in manipulation, cruelty, and belittling others, but on a more complex terrain, twisting and torching the hearts of women like Mrs. Elvsted, played compassionately by Joella Crichton (Stratford’s Wedding Band).

Tom McCamus as Judge Brack and Sara Topham as Hedda in Hedda Gabler. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

It’s shocking that people like Mrs. Elvsted keep returning to the abusive parlour, as if they might be greeted by a more mature and caring soul, but that kind of punch is rarely served here honestly. Other women are playthings to this Hedda, as it is clear to her that they hold no real power over anything that matters. Judge Brack, played to subtle perfection by Tom McCamus (Soulpepper’s King Lear/Queen Goneril), on the other hand, holds a triangular association to something more akin to excitement and advancement. She adores the offensive and defensive fencing that occurs in the presence of these self-important powerful men, particularly McCamus’ deliciously delivered Judge who never fails to find the base truth. But her passion is completely enflamed by the wildness and intellectual freedom that lives, drunkenly, inside Lovborg, played compellingly by Brad Hodder (Mirvish’s Harry Potter…). It’s so connected to her personage and her power that it engulfs her focus, and she must either control it by having or destroying its nature. There are few in-betweens.

Topham’s Hedda carries cowardice hidden just below her haughtiness magnificently, masked by a bravery that doesn’t exist authentically inside her. It appears she holds herself tall and determined, but only if she feels she has the upper hand on those around her. She’s desperate and impulsive, selfish and ungrateful. Her true calling, as she tells us with a laugh, is to “bore myself to death“, with a stance that is defiantly fueled by rage, fear, jealousy, and helplessness.

She tests the waters of her sweeping control, trying to distract and entwine. Yet, when she discovers that her ability to enthrall has evaporated before her very eyes, thrown to the sidelines by the man she thought she had unlimited hold over, that demise is overwhelming. Everything she believed in and held on to just went up in smoke, granting us an ending that is as sharply defined and shocking as it is beautifully staged. There is no saving in this space for her, and even though the last line, delivered almost too casually by the Judge lingers in the complicated air feeling cold, distant, and detached from emotion, the overall darkness cuts sharp and true. It hits like an angry Hedda slap out of nowhere, in a way that this play hasn’t hit in a long time. Burned from the act that just played out before us, the sneak bullet attack in a way, fires out into our souls without warning. “I can’t live like the others,” and so she doesn’t. That idea, and the way this Hedda takes control of her one parloured arena, gets embedded in our hearts as painfully as it does her temple, leaving its mark and its emotional disturbance for us all to carry home with us.

For more information and tickets, go to the Stratford Festival website, or click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Events

Hamptons Fashion Week Keeps Getting Hauter So Save The Date

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Hamptons Fashion Week®, is the premier fashion event in the Hamptons! On July 26th-27th, 2024, join us at the luxurious Summer Series and an unforgettable experience. With over multiple designer shows, runways, luxury brands and exhibitor spaces during Hamptons Super Saturday®, Hamptons Swim Week® with a range of exciting activations, this is the must-attend event of the year.

At Hamptons Fashion Week®, leading fashion designers, entertainment, and productions are all under one roof, creating a truly immersive and transformative experience. You’ll have the opportunity to rub shoulders with industry professionals, fashion designers, models, and more, all while experiencing the latest trends in fashion.

From panel discussions and product demonstrations to social events such as industry mixers, after parties, lifestyle events and more! Guests will have access to exclusive, on-site hospitality, unmatched insider extras, and more, making this a truly coveted invitation.

Reserve your access now to receive one of fashion’s most coveted invites and be a part of the best touring fashion hampton experience of the year. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to be a part of the transformation of the fashion industry. Join us at Hamptons Swim Week® presented by Hamptons Fashion Week® Summer Series and Experience 2024!

Hamptons Fashion Week announced that it will feature Alice & Olivia and Michelle Farmer as their award recipients at Hampton’s Fashion Week Retail Of The Year Award Show on July 26th VIP Reception. Event coverage will be brought to you by E! News!, Bella Magazine, Dans Paper, Hamptons.com, Vogue  and other major influencers! There will also be a swim Week Runway Showcase by Johnny Was

 
This year, Celebrity, Hollywood Stylist & Designer Phillip Bloch will be receiving the Style Icon of The Year Award , July 27th during the program and show 6pm-10pm
 
Shop our latest brands at theHamptons Fashion Week Online Marketplace!
 
You need tickets so click here. Security will be super tight for this event. So if you don’t have a ticket there is no entrance.

VIP Tickets $500 include:

Swag Bag-Valued at $500{One Per Person]

Seating

Access to ALL 3 Events!

July 26th, 6=10pm, Vip Launch Party-Drinks , Bites & Entertainment. The cocktail reception is from 6pm to 8:30pm 

July 27th, Drinks, Bites , Entertainment plus Hamptons Fashion Week Fashion Show Debut in Westhampton. The cocktail reception is from 6pm to 8:30p and After Party.Double check on the List below

VIP Restaurant Sponsors:

Justin Chop Shop

Rouge Kitchens

The Cottage On The Hamlet

Sobol

Centro

Mill Road Seafood

Fruit King

North Fork Chocolate Company

Honest Plate Chef Nicolas

Mary’s Pizza And Pasta

Tonino’s Pizza

Buoy One

Jerri’s Cakery & Confections

Daphne’s Westhampton Beach

Insatiable Eats

Vern Restaurant And Bar

VIP Spirit Sponsors

William Grant And Sons

Votto Vines Importing

Hamptons Wine Shoppe

Handlebar

British Ginger T

Monkey In Pardise

Elbuhl Mezcal

Twin Stills Moonshine

Blue Nextar

Penelope Bourbon

Westhampton Beach Brewing

Twin Stills Moonshine

Fort Hamilton Distillery

Kleos Mastiha Spirits

Beau Joie Rose Champange

Cantera Negra Tequila

Bay Gin

Twisted Cow Distillery

Series 19 Wheat Vodka

Series 19 Rye Vodka

Series 19 Jalapeno Vodka

Dune Drifter Agave Spirit

Spy Ring Rum Raisin

Drinksouthside

 

 

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Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End Soars Three Times Higher Than Expected

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As the dawn breaks” over the houses, a songbird’s tender melody flies this new musical forward over the three mornings, decades apart. As three households are revealed, dated and notated above as 1960, 1989, and 2015, we are welcomed most harmoniously to the brutalist iconic housing development in Sheffield, and the emotionally clever and connecting musical, Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Sitting forcibly on top of the world, with a forever fussy neon sign giving us a glimpse into some form of engagement ahead, the musical, as written by the wonderfully talented Richard Hawley (“Soldier On“), digs into the personal ramifications of the nation’s political upheavals that bubble up into the lives of these families from the 1960s through Thatcherism, immigration, Brexit, and beyond. With a strongly layered book by Chris Bush (The Changing Room), Sky’s Edge unearths deeply felt, intertwined connections in the three families of three generations over six decades. The opening feels almost Shakespearian, with subtle flavors that remind us of that opening monologue from Romeo & Juliet (a show we were seeing hours after this show), with these somewhat stereotypical family dynamics moving steadily forward in life and love. Planted inside this boxy structure of many layers, these characters find greater depth with each passing emotional moment as they move forward through a classic gentrification dynamic all within one concrete iconic housing estate.

Laura Pitt-Pulford as Poppy, Elizabeth Ayodele as Joy. and Rachael Wooding as Rose in Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

All adventures are scary,” we are told pretty straight up in this fascinating creation, and we lean into the melodic unveiling before us. The three stories of differing social situations are riveting, engaging us in ways that resemble more of a play with fantastic deliverable songs sung in a more performative fashion rather than sung from within the storytelling. Delivered like rockstars standing at their microphone stand (sometimes), and arranged and orchestrated by Tom Deering (Almeida’s Tammy Faye) with musical direction by associate music supervisor Alex Beetschen (RADA’s Spring Awakening), this midnight train is a clever layering filled with many little treasures that add energy and emotional clarity to the piece. As the characters open up their doors to us, they keep deepening their directive, revealing their dilemmas and dynamics with sharp contrast and emotional compassion.


Elizabeth Ayodele as Joy and Samuel Jordan as Jimmy in Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg.

The cast is completely fantastic across the board, giving us chills in their unity of action, striking forward the distress and pain of the world they live in while struggling to hold on to the few crumbs of gratitude and humble acceptance. They find harmony in their collective, drawing us in, even as they stand together in a more choral arrangement. The leads are particularly good, with Samuel Jordan (“Sex Education“) in the pivotal role of Jimmy giving us an anchor to hold onto, with his counterpoint, Elizabeth Ayodele (NT’s Small Island) as Joy, the one who catches his eye (or is it the other way around). The circumstances that plant her here are complicated and emotionally stirring, delivered well by the family of actors that surround her, including Sharlene Hector (Barbican’s Strange Loop) as her Aunt Grace and Baker Mukasa (RSC’s The Winter’s Tale) as cousin George. Also tugging hard on our heartstrings are the young married couple who move into the flat with the view in the 1960s, played strongly by Rachael Wooding (Dominion’s We Will Rock You) as Rose and Joel Harper-Jackson (West End’s Cock) as Harry. Their heartbreaking unraveling is the key to the Sky’s Edge puzzle that slowly comes together with grace and dignity. But they are just part of the formulations.The whole is what makes this musical sing and stride forward so effectively.

The most modern entry into that flat is the compelling story of Poppy, played strong and true by Laura Pitt-Pulford (NT’s The Light Princess), and the complexities that surround Nikki, played engagingly well by Lauryn Redding (Vaudeville’s The Worst Witch). Redding delivers the song, “Open Up Your Door” with a force that knocks us off-center, mainly because we see it one way, until we are thrown a curve ball to look at it in a different framing of light. Poppy’s story is the looser connective tissue, keeping itself one knot removed, unlike the other two tales. But it somehow stays tied in, even if the grief and the sense of loss are played out in reverse. They still register, and give us a new doorway to walk through.

Lauryn Redding as Nikki, Laura Pitt-Pulford as Poppy, and the cast of Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

Tonight, the streets are hot,” and the show unpacks a wealth of interactive complications and connections in a series of tender boxes that have been dutifully crafted to keep the tumultuous rain out, laid out with style by set and costume designer Ben Stones (Leeds’ Hedwig and the Angry Inch), with sharply tuned in lighting by Mark Henderson (Chichester’s Flowers for Mrs. Harris) and a strong sound design by Bobby Aitken (West End’s Ghost). As directed with care and focus by Robert Hastie (Sheffield/Donamr’s She Loves Me), the framing embraces our curiosity continuously, and engages our attention throughout, leading us through fireworks, love, despair, and grief that touch our collective heart and soul in abundance.

This magnificently moving three-layered story, with stunningly searing songs and sharply tuned-in choreography by Lynne Page (Broadway’s American Psycho) is billed as a musical, but carries the heavy weight of a play that is unpacking modern Britain and its politics. Delivered and unpacked through the stories of the landmark Park Hill estate. this view from the sky’s edge is a powerfully performed and sung exploration of the connective tissues of community and family, and what it means to take shelter in a brutialist box that will keep out the rain.

Rachael Wooding as Rose and Joel Harper-Jackson as Harry in Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg.

The musical engages, pulling us gently into a dramatic tension that surprises and enlightens. Standing at the Sky’s Edge gives us a stunning view to take in, three times stronger than anything I could have imagined, and one that we won’t easily forget. Winner of the 2023 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, UK Theatre Award for Best Musical Production, and the South Bank Sky Arts Award, Standing at the Sky’s Edge soars to the highest of heights and holds us tight. Now playing until August 3rd at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, London.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
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Events

Billy Joel and Roger Sichel Quiet Brunch Turned Newsworthy Thanks to Justin Timberlake

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The night before Justin Timberlake was busy drinking and talking with his friends. Timberlake was stopped by police just after midnight on Tuesday. Billy Joel and artist Roger Sichel the next morning were having brunch at their usual hang out at the American Hotel, next to each other. Joel and Sichel were bombarded by photographs due to the late breaking news. What was scheduled to be a  quite afternoon turned out to be what has taken over the news.


Timberlake who is in the middle of a world tour that includes upcoming Madison Square Garden told the officers he had just “one martini.” According to sources he was inhibited on them and refused to take the sobriety test.

Billy Joel is busy working and lives within walking distance of the hotel.

Sichel just finished an art show in Beverly Hills and will be opening in Sag Harbor Kramois’s art gallery two doors down from the American Hotel next week.

Seems that the American Hotel is the place to hang this summer, well it always was.

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Jamie Lloyd’s “Romeo & Juliet” in the West End Finds Unparalleled Amplification in its Microphoned Words and Limited Movements

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Behind a large industrial gate, Verona stands hard and dominant in the stark white light. It’s 1597, as projected, but the energy is utterly contemporary and fascinatingly modern. Designed to shock and startle from the get-go, this Romeo, as directed with a sharp focus by Jamie Lloyd (Broadway/West End’s Betrayal), strides in through the backstage hallways in dynamic fashion, destined to illicit a guttural response. “See where he comes,” we are told, and as movie star Tom Holland (West End’s  Billy Elliot the Musical) makes his way confidently forward, we must come to amplified terms with Lloyd’s very distinct version of this famed tale, one that will either excite or disappoint, but it will never be a bore.

Maybe because I came into West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre just days after seeing a more traditional (and somewhat lackluster) Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festival in Canada, I was game for some changing of the rules, and inside the editing of the iconic text, fascinatingly created in layers by Nima Taleghani (“Heartstopper“), this radical reappraisal by the Jamie Lloyd Company unpacks more emotional layers while barely moving a muscle than many a traditional staging does. Delivered with clarity and an extreme understanding of what’s at stake in the storyline, it simmers with taunt muscular sexuality, anchored in their tight formulations and delivery, and held together by the star-powered force that is Holland and company.

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers and Tom Holland, starring in Romeo & Juliet, a Jamie Lloyd Company production at West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

More importantly, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers (“Bad Education“), as his ill-fated Juliet, unmasks layers of unapologetic strength and passion giving the delivery and the play’s text its captifying edge. She is a hopeless romantic, but more of a determined woman than a cowering child. The power dynamics are reframed and realigned with this more stripped-away staging, giving Amewudah-Rivers’ Juliet more room to engage with that overpowering chemistry that exists between her and Holland’s Romeo, even when she almost ridicules the young man when he attempts to swear by the moon. That isn’t going to fly with this engaging creation.

This Juliet is a powerfully profound unpacking, supported most brilliantly by Freema Agyeman (Trafalgar Studieo’s Apologia) as her confidently embodied confidant; the multilayered Nurse. Her in-tune performance adds weight, connection, and energy, humorously stroking Holland’s impressive biceps, while proclaiming Juliet “will be a joyful woman.” But she also masterfully delivers despair and angst, possibly because the sharp edit has cut down the external paternal voices to only one per household. Juliet’s mother is nonexistent, giving all matters to her father, Capulet, masterfully maneuvered by Tomiwa Edun (NT’s Macbeth). This sliced-down rendering elevates the positioning that the maternal Nurse must take. The actor must balance both the emotional engagement and the hierarchy at play within the household. The mother-subtraction ultimately adds a jolt of energy into the whole, especially the pivotal scene between Juliet, her father, and the maternal Nurse, when the marriage to Paris, played engagingly by fresh-faced newcomer, Daniel Quinn-Toye, making his professional debut, is being forced upon the young already married daughter. It’s a captivating unraveling that lives and breathes inside a construct that completely makes sense.

The same is true for Romeo’s parental force. His mother, already barely a presence in the text of the play, especially at the end, has been given full command and sole ownership of the Montague household. Played well and true by Mia Jerome (Punchdruck’s Lost Leading Library), she delivers the required emotional force but leaves a special space for the paternal Friar, normally portrayed by Michael Balogun (Gillian Lynne’s The Lehman Trilogy), but was delivered with intensity by Phillip Olagoke (Old Vic’s A Number), to step in and engage with Romeo as if he is the son he never had. It’s a spectacularly astute repackaging that really shows its full worth when two scenes of the young married lovers’ angst are played on top of each other with the four: Nurse, Romeo, Juliet, and the Friar, lined up intersecting their lines straight into microphones on the stand.

Tom Holland (center) and cast in Romeo & Juliet, a Jamie Lloyd Company production at West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

When I tried to explain this to someone, their reaction was, with all those microphones and cameras on stage, projecting images that overlay one another, that it must feel stalled and somewhat boring. But in many ways, Lloyd’s creative engagement in stillness and striped-away engagement elevates the dynamic, creating a telling of this tale that is sexy, intense, and completely haunting. It’s filled with suspense and understanding, played true and confident by a cast that is completely engaged with the text. The electricity lives and breaths within these assured performances, and I was enraptured from beginning to end.

The editing pen also solidly pulls out all the excess in the play’s denouement, leaving the two to deliver their hopelessness without a soul in sight to get in the way and muddy the water. Played out on that bare cavernous stage, crafted with intent by set and costume designer Soutra Gilmour (West End/Broadway’s A Doll’s House), with meticulous lighting by Jon Clark (West End/Broadway’s The Lehman Trilogy), a solid sound design by Ben & Max Ringham (West End’s An Enemy of the People), composition by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante (NT/The Shed’s The Effect), and assisted by the tender and captivating video design and cinematography by Nathan Amzi & Joe Ransom (Savoy’s Sunset Boulevard), this unpacking is as dark and engaging as one could possibly hope for. There is no Paris to do battle with, and the Friar doesn’t run in and out attempting to, and failing, to save the two from their breaking hearts. It’s just the two broken souls, overcome with grief, unable to move forward without their other.

Casting stares into the audience, the two leads deliver the goods in spectacular fashion, given that violence and hate are hovering behind them in the smokey darkness. The force is as exacting as the expert mashing and cutting of truth, side by side. There is more authentic emotion than many other pairings (and foursomes) that I have seen over the years, giving this tragic love story the undeniable edge and intensity that electrifies Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Even when it flies sometimes a bit too far from the stage, Lloyd’s distinctive directorial style lands hard and true.

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, Tom Holland (center), and the cast of Romeo & Juliet, a Jamie Lloyd Company production at West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

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Crow’s Theatre, Musical Stage Company, and Soulpepper Theatre Company Take Home Numerous 2024 Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards

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After a four-year hiatus, the Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards (S) returned to honor excellence from the 2023-24 professional theatre season. The 11th TTCAs, announced Tuesday morning, June 11th, boast 19 winners across 14 categories, including a special citation for artistic achievement.

Crow’s Theatre and Soulpepper Theatre Company were the big winners this year, each receiving seven awards, with the sensationally well-received Crow’s Theatre/Musical Stage Company co-production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. The production led the musical division with three wins, including Best Production of a Musical, with two members of its company; George Krissa and Heeyun Park 박희윤, jointly awarded for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.

Soulpepper Theatre Company followed close behind with two wines for the fascinatingly dynamic world premiere of De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail. Damien Atkins, the production’s star, won the award for Best Lead Performance in a Musical. Gregory Prest, who directed and adapted the production from its source material; Wilde’s original love letter of the same name, was also recognized as Best Director of a Musical.

Damien Atkins and Colton Curtis in Soulpepper Theatre’s De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

In the Musical Division

  • Crow’s Theatre and Musical Stage Company co-production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812: Best Production of a Musical, and George Krissa and Heeyun Park박희윤 were jointly awarded the prize for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.
  • Soulpepper’s production of De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail: Damien Atkins won the award for Best Lead Performance in a Musical, and Gregory Prest, who directed as well as adapted the material from Wilde’s original love letter of the same name won Best Director of a Musical.
  • Kelly v. Kelly, Britta Johnson and Sara Farb’s new musical inspired by true events, produced by the Musical Stage Company in association with Canadian Stage won Best Ensemble in a Musical.
Sean Arbuckle (left) as Thomas and Krystin Pellerin as Diana in Casey and Diana. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The Play Division

  • Nick Green’s drama Casey and Diana, which ran at Soulpepper after premiering at the Stratford Festival, won the award for Best New Canadian Play, and actor Sean Arbuckle received the prize for Best Leading Performance in a Play.
  • Michael Healey’s satire The Master Plan, produced by Crow’s Theatre, also won Best New Canadian Play, and the cast won Best Ensemble in a Play
  • Amaka Umeh also won Best Leading Performance in a Play for their performance playing two characters in Soulpepper’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead.
  • Two actors were awarded the prize for Best Supporting Performance in a Play: Jadyn Nasato, for her performance in the Studio 180 Theatre production of Four Minutes, Twelve Seconds, and Oyin Oladejo for her turn in Three Sisters, co-produced by Soulpepper and Obsidian Theatre Company.
L-R: Antoine Yared, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Ben Page, Qasim Khan, and Daniel MacIvor in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
  • Crow’s Theatre’s production Bad Roads won Best International Play, and Andrew Kushnir won Best Director of a Play. The work by Ukrainian playwright Natal’ya Vorozhbit is based on real-life testimonies from witnesses to Russia’s invasion of the Donbas in 2014.
  • Leora Morris also wins Best Director of a Play for their work on Coal Mine Theatre’s production of The Sound Inside by Adam Rapp.
  • Canadian Stage’s production of the two-part drama The Inheritance won Best Production of a Play.
  • Best Design, Play or Musical went to Nick Blais (lighting), Heidi Chan (sound), Anahita Dehbonehie (set), and Niloufar Ziaee (costumes) for their collective work on A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, co-produced by Outside the March and Soulpepper Theatre Company.
  • Theatre legend Daniel MacIvor received a special citation for his work over the past season, which included a memorable performance in The Inheritance, and the revivals of his plays Monster and Here Lies Henry, both produced by Factory Theatre.
Mike Shara (front and center) and the cast of Crow’s Theatre’s The Master Plan. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
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