King Arthur: Toronto Masque Theatre
by Brian Hay
This was a phenomenal production from start to finish.
The traditional English dialect used in the script took a bit of getting used to but that’s not a fault of the production. I’m just the not used to the language sounding the way it did during that period. Anyway, things fell into place quickly enough and the dialect supported the story well. The principle characters were all multi-faceted and the actors handled their strengths and frailties well. As Arthur, Darren Keay ran with one of the funniest moments when he confronted his own weakness (which came in the form(s) of pretty tempting sirens). Emmeline’s (Caitlin Stewart) encounter with her own mirror was priceless. Jason Gray gave a moving performance as the conflicted Oswald, a man torn between his jealousy and his ideals.
The dance sequences were excellent. Purcell’s score gives plenty of opportunities and choreographer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière used them to great effect. The segments she created were graceful, expressive and visually stunning. The projection art by Caroline Guilbault set up the action of the story well. The lighting (designed by Gabriel Cropley) was strong. It enhanced the action without overpowering it. Through it all the interaction between singers and actors flowed smoothly. Directors Derek Boys and Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière and Stage Manager Filusch did a superb job on this.
The music is still the main attraction though. In its natural form ‘King Arthur’ as conceived by writer John Dryden and Composer Henry Purcell defies being categorized. It’s parts of play and ballet and sounds like it might have an opera buried in there somewhere. It’s part whimsical fantasy, part adult comedy and all idealistic morality tale. All of which made it a perfect vehicle for the talents of Henry Purcell. This man could (and did) set bar room jokes to music or write serenades fit for angels with ease. His music is spirited, dynamic, melodic, accessible and, often, sublimely beautiful. The score of ‘Arthur’ is sprinkled generously with doses of all of these facets and the orchestra led by Larry Beckwith captured them beautifully. This group comprised of two violins, one viola, one cello, two recorders (antique flutes), two oboes, a pair of trumpets, a bassoon, a theorbo (a big bass relative the lute), a percussionist and a harpsichord player gave a clinic on how to make less sound like more. Their numbers were small but their sound wasn’t. They balanced perfectly with the nine singers who performed both the choral and solo movements. There were plenty of highlights. Anne Grimm was brilliant doing Cupid’s song. Giles Tomkins brought the feel of a rock concert to ‘Your Hay is Mow’d’. Having him come out among the audience was a brilliant touch. Teri Dunn delivered an exquisitely beautiful rendition of ‘Fairest Isle’. Most of the choral segments were heartrendingly beautiful. The music sparkled.
This was a satisfying production from start to finish. The Toronto Masque Theatre has done an exceptional job of taking a work that’s performed so rarely it may as well have been lost, bringing to our time and making it part of our time. It should be seen everywhere.
All I can say is thank you and thank you again. This was great.
'King Arthur' ran at the MacMillan Centre for the Arts on April 23 and 24 th 2009. This review pertains to the performance that ran on Friday April 24, 2009.
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