Did you miss me? I spent July working in Saskatoon, as staff on an amazing enrichment program called Shad Valley. It was fulfilling but exhausting. I didn’t have time to attend or review theatre, and mostly their theatre calendar seemed to be in the same kind of pre-Fringe lull as in Edmonton anyway. I’m back now, though, and you’ll be hearing more from me about Edmonton entertainment soon, with my August calendar filling up with Folkfest, Sonic Boom, and the Fringe.
I did get to attend two Shakespeare performances at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, a tent venue on the bank of the South Saskatchewan River. The company does two plays in repertory with mostly the same actors, and this year’s offerings were Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors. We attended Comedy of Errors with our program participants, and I returned with a few friends later to see the Scottish play.
I was not previously familiar with Comedy of Errors, so I bought a No Fear Shakespeare version of the text (original lines on one page, modern-language version on the facing page) the day before and read fast. Basically, it’s a mistaken-identities-of-twins farce. I was afraid that it would be confusing to follow, but I was almost always more clear about who was who than the characters in the play were. I’m still not quite sure how the sets of identical twins ended up with the same names – there was an explanation about the parents being separated in a shipwreck and each rescuing one son and one slave-boy, but I couldn’t tell whether they had originally given the boys non-unique names or whether they’d just gotten muddled about which ones each parent had rescued. But it definitely accelerated the complications and comedy that there were two look-alike slaves named Dromio (Bob Wicks and Ed Mendez) and two look-alike merchants named Antipholus (Jaron Francis and Mike Prebble). There was lots of physical humour, especially by the Dromios, by Adriana (Jenna-Lee Hyde) who is married to the local merchant, and by a servant woman named Luce (Tara Schoonbaert). I was a little distracted by the premise of buying infants as slaves and by the way that everyone took for granted that masters would hit their slaves, and I had to remind myself that this was not just a very different setting, but one that Shakespeare had made up.
The performance was quite short (under 2 hours with intermission I think). I didn’t find the language a barrier to following the story and laughing at the funny parts. The light-coloured tent venue and an evening performance in the long northern evening created an unusual lighting effect that contributed to the sense that this was a magical not-quite-real place.
One of the policies of the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival is to employ actors from Saskatchewan. So of course when I went to Comedy of Errors, none of the faces were familiar. A colleague who is more familiar with the Saskatoon theatre scene said that he recognised several of them and had seen their work or knew them, and that made me realise how much fun it’s been becoming familiar with Edmonton performers over the last year or so.
On the other hand, seeing all the same actors in very different roles a few days later was a delight. There were a lot of beards in both shows, and I struggled a bit in distinguishing Macduff (Ed Mendez) and Banquo (Bob Wicks) (who were wearing similar beige Highland dress and who had been the Dromios in the other show.)
I studied Macbeth in Grade 12, and I’ve seen two Stratford (Ontario) Festival productions. But I was still surprised by how quickly the story progressed, with the ambitious couple acting quickly and then with everything going bad even faster. I also noticed how the shock and horror gradually escalate, from Duncan’s murder being completely off stage to the on-stage slaughter of Lady Macduff and her child or children.
Lady Macbeth (Cassidy Thomson) struck me as very young, compared to how I’d seen her in the past. Her sexuality and her ways of using her power over her husband and others to further her ambition seemed different somehow because of her age. One of my companions found Macbeth’s (Matt Burgess) leaps from modesty to ambition to regret early in the play to be less than convincing, and I saw his point.
I remembered the play as being relatively short, but it was still much longer than Comedy of Errors. The simple set (almost identical to Comedy of Errors) and limited lighting changes and music didn’t impede the director and actors’ ability to create the necessary mood shifts, from the overt spookiness of the witches’ appearance to the more disturbing appearance of Banquo’s ghost at a feast. This production omitted the chatty funny byplay between Lady Macduff and the smartass son that immediately precedes their brutal murders, as there were no child actors, just a bundle of presumed infant. It also simplified the Banquo’s ghost scene leaving out the parade of kings, and didn’t exhibit Macbeth’s head on a pike at the end. But it included a bit that I didn’t remember at all, a discussion about how maybe Malcolm wasn’t suited to be king because he was too lustful. Now I am wondering if that went completely over my head when I was younger or whether it was left out of our school editions.
Both productions continue into August. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster as well as locally. There is easy parking near the festival grounds as is common for everything in Saskatoon, and the festival grounds are a pleasant shady place to linger before the show or at intermission.