Stand-Ins of the World, Stand Up!I recall enjoying two great theatre productions from the year I worked at Queen's University in Kingston, one of 'The Cherry Orchard' and the other of Tom Stoppard's 'The Real Inspector Hound'. I remembered few details of either, and tonight's attendance at Soulpepper's production of the latter proved that my few detailed memories were erroneous (though vaguely close to right).
However accurate my memories, the play is an utter delight, and the production was excellent. The device of having two critics commenting on a fatuous murder mystery (I rather wish I had ever seen The Mousetrap) is very Stoppardian, as is their misfortune on finding themselves drawn into the play. Oliver Dennis and Michael Simpson were wonderful as the critics, each getting deeper into his obsession, Dennis' critic concerned about being the stand-in, and Simpson's satisfying new-found lust, and managing it combined with his marriage, and the lust of the night before. The rest of the cast did a fine job lampooning the sort of play Stoppard was having fun with.
Now this was a two-part evening, with the same ensemble, the other part being Peter Shaffer's 'Black Comedy', which I had never previously even heard of. This was a very witty piece of work, beginning with a few minutes in absolute darkness, puzzling me no end where we were going. In the end, it was a most amazing piece of physical comedy, with Mike Shara simply shocking doing slapstick, for me a first with this theatre company. For me, this play also really allowed the very fetching Caroline Cave and Sarah Wilson show fine comic skills and fetchingness.
Ensemble efforts like this from Soulpepper have proven to be consistently superb, so I find it hard not to mention everyone.
Michael Simpson is always great as a character who seems slightly lost and was in both halves. He has not always got roles that he handles perfectly but he got two here. Oliver Dennis is a reliable performer in an amazing variety of roles, and he manages the critic obsessed with his status and the gay neighbour brilliantly. Corrine Koslo was new to me and great in both her roles, one as the cleaning lady in the Stoppard, and as the I guess sort of Christian neighbour in the Shaffer. William Webster gets to be officious, magnificently, as always, in both plays.
And I cannot fail to mention C. David Johnson, who is just great in Soulpepper's comic stuff - here he takes on the role of a slightly uptight father in the Shaffer, and I won;t say what in the Stoppard, and carries it well. He always has a fine sense of comic timing. I single him out mostly as he was Street Legal's Chuck Tchobanian. (I also hope I have raved about his performance in Soulpepper's past productions of 'The Play's the Thing' - I ought to have!)
I think this choice of plays may have strayed from the original mandate of the company, but maybe plays from the '60s should start counting as classical drama. Both plays were also products of a very specific time, and the theatre reminded us of this with intermission music consisting of Beatles' songs. Both plays are deeply about cultural conflicts of specific interest in that time. It does remain a tad tricky for me recognizing that maybe the '60s were quite a while ago.
Thanks, Soulpepper. I wish I could have gone to this earlier, and reviewed it earlier (and sold one more ticket for you!). Given the current tendency to bring things back in the next year, I would say give this one a thought. It almost looked as if the cast had as much fun as the audience I shared it with.