The Awkwardly Shaped Tom Patterson Theatre – and Mary Stuart

Last but not least – there’s the Tom Patterson Theatre. I describe it as awkward because the theatre is in a curling rink – long and thin, with rows of seats extending all the way from the narrow front of the stage to the far back. It’s a huge space – and the actors are challenged to be heard and to be seen when their backs are to at least 1/2 the audience at all times. By definition the staging is minimalist – but this is Stratford – minimalist doesn’t mean boring or empty.

At the Tom Patterson, lighting takes on a leading role. In the case of Mary Stuart – the only play we saw there this year – lighting produces the mazes that the players walk to show their captivity, their helplessness, their forced upon them artificial lives. Lighting makes the play.

And when the theatre suddenly went dark because of a Stratford wide power failure – the audience and the actors were stunned. The actors quite literally froze in their paces – I’m guessing hoping that the computer controlled lights would remember where they had been moments earlier. No such luck. The lights had to grind thru their positions, and the play had to start over several pages back. Kinda neat – as an audience you rarely see how professionals can with such apparent ease virtually repeat every movement again and again.

For those wondering about the play – the story tells of an imaginary meeting between Queen Elizabeth and her rival for the throne of England, Mary Stuart. But the meeting, despite being the ‘heart’ of the play – is fore-shadowed by the preamble to the meeting – the posturing by both Mary and Elizabeth, the fawning of their staff, the desperate need to be right, to be loved, to be respected. It does make for powerful drama.

I’d give this play/production a medium recommend. Not as much fun as Fiddler, not as uncomfortable for the audience as The Merchant of Venice, not as noisy as Tommy, not as fun as Blythe Spirit and not as dramatic a tour de force as Thrill, but still worth the money.

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