The Avon Theatre – Just because its Proscenium doesn’t mean its boring
The Avon is a converted theatre – dating back over 100 years – and both it’s age and it’s format are reflected in the type of plays choose to be produced in this hall. There is a decidedly conservation bent to most of the productions – captured as they must be within the window wall space. But that hardly translates into dull or boring. In fact, some of my favorite productions in the past have been produced here.
But not this year. We saw 3 different productions at the Avon. Othello, Tommy, and Blythe Spirit. Of the 3 – there were parts to love, and parts to sleep through. The most sleep worthy was unfortunately Othello. There were moments of superb drama – as one would expect at Stratford, and for some of the audience, the story was a complete surprise. Spoiler alert here – Desdemona dies, but apparently the people in the seat next to me didn’t know it. One urgently whispered to the other – right at the heart of the bedroom scene – Oh my goodness – he’s going to kill her! But the designers attempt to break out of the window space using a revolving triangular stage sloped dramatic to one side meant that actors were being flung off in all directions. Several times I saw people stumble trying to regain their balance as the set rotated them out of the ‘center’ space. On the other hand – when the rotating stage worked – it worked well. At one point we see the bed from one view-point, later on from the opposite side. A clever device that makes us feel like we are there with Desdemona. But great set doesn’t quite balance against mumbled lines, something that really shouldn’t happen here. Oh well – it’s still in preview – maybe they will get it together before it opens. One lives in hope.
Tommy is today, and was in the past, a mess. And Stratford’s highly original stage set with airplanes taking off into the audience, parachutes being shot out of the ski, and giant pin ball machines just doesn’t cover up for the fact that most of the music is really pointless. I didn’t really ‘get’ the story when I was 15 – and I’m afraid I still don’t ‘get’ it today. Neat visual effects though.
Of the 3 – Blythe Spirit is the clear winner – if one must pick a winner. The dialogue is snappy and smart, the debate on the meaning of life and death no less intriguing today than it was when the play was first performed, and the surprise ending is always a surprise. My favorite character of course is the medium. Such a wonderful character – so smartly performed by Seana McKenna Most surprisingly, she also takes on the deadly serious role of Elizabeth in Mary Staurt. One of the things I most love about Stratford is just that – the chance to see the same actor – sometimes on the same day – in 2 entirely different roles, both performed superbly. It’s amazing. And while my sister – who is a ‘theatre folk’ and commented that it’s all in a days work – for me, the non-professional – the ability to memorize so many lines, in such different performances, with different directors nothing short of awesome.
So – plays at the Avon – bit hit and miss – but for sure see Blythe Spirit. The other 2 can be missed.