Theatre Review: ‘The Ladykillers’ at The Shaw Festival

The cast of “The Ladykillers” at The Shaw Festival. Photo by David Cooper.

There are few things more satisfying that a well done comedy. To genuinely laugh out loud (instead of the LOL we type with a straight face) is a great feeling, and the Shaw Festival’s production of Graham Linehan’s “The Ladykillers” is chock full of chortle-inducing moments.

. . .the incredible cast never missed a beat. . .

The play is based on the film screenplay by William Rose, and follows one rather eccentric woman, Mrs. Wilberforce, in post-World War II London as she rents a spare room to a group of musicians wishing to have a place to practice. However, the musicians are actually criminals using the room to compose the greatest heist, and later consequential murder of all time. Mrs. Wilberforce unknowingly gets involved, leading to hilarious circumstance after circumstance until a fitting conclusion.

Chick Reid is a treat as the sometimes dim-witted but always well-intentioned Mrs. Wilberforce. She brings a lot of spunk to a character who initially seems like a typical clueless old lady and quickly enchants the audience as an unlikely heroine.

Leading the musically-challenged band of criminals is Damien Atkins as Professor Marcus. Pardon yet another musical pun, but he hits all the right notes as the Nervous Nellie ringleader of the aspiring thieves. Atkins’ lankiness and fluidity also makes for some outrageously good physical comedy as he struggles to calmly execute his plan.

Martin Hopper, Andrew Lawrie, Ric Reid and Steven Sutcliffe round out the ensemble of mischievous men, each saddled with an important piece of the heist and challenged by hilarious obstacles along the way. Whether they’re hiding in a closet, pretending to play instruments or arguing over who is the best candidate to murder someone, each shines in their respective roles.

Arguably the most important character in “The Ladykillers” is Judith Bowden’s incredibly detailed and dynamic two-story, 360-degree set. The actors thankfully utilize every inch of the interior and exterior of Mrs. Wilberforce’s house and, when it comes time for the heist, Bowden presents it, in its entirety, in an incredibly genius use of space and technology.

“The Ladykillers” is easily my favorite show I’ve seen at the Shaw Festival in recent years. The audience was laughing constantly and the incredible cast never missed a beat, earning the show a worthy spot at the top of any theater-goer’s bucket list.

Running Time: approximately two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.

“The Ladykillers” is playing at the Festival Theatre through October 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Orchard (After Chekhov)’ at The Shaw Festival

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The cast of “The Orchard (After Checkov) at The Shaw Festival. Photo by Emily Cooper.

The Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre is my favorite theater at the Shaw Festival. Its intimacy and ability to draw in an audience in so many different configurations is so interesting and oftentimes perfect for the shows selected to perform there. Sarena Parmar’s exceptional “The Orchard (After Chekhov)” is playing there this year, and it is simply extraordinary.

…an incredibly important story of humanity and the fear of losing everything…”

Parmar’s spin on Anton Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” is based on her own childhood in British Columbia and follows a Punjabi-Sikh family, the Basran’s, who is fighting to maintain ownership of their family orchard in the Okanagan Valley.  Although the story is set in 1975, the play’s focus on the Canadian immigrant experience couldn’t feel more timely, especially for this politically aware American tourist.

The show begins and ends with a transformative audio interlude, wiping away any thoughts or distractions from the audience’s minds and moving us right into the story. The cast, directed by Ravu Jain, is comprised of both Shaw debutees and veterans, all of whom create an endearing and sometimes frustrating family.

The fresh-faced Parmar, in addition to penning an incredible play, stars as Annie, one of the daughters of the farm. She’s incredibly well-spoken and serves as the family peacekeeper, trying to keep everyone from fighting with her mother, who she recently brought home.

Shawn Ahmed’s Peter, a neighbor to the Basrans, is another standout performance. While he initially comes off as a nerdy neighbor, we quickly learn of his quick wit and strong political opinions, which intrigue Annie and challenge the rest of the family.

Krystal Kiran is my other favorite performance as Barminder, battling her family’s potential loss of the orchard, frustrating finances and a seemingly almost-fiance. Not to mention her desire to feel more connected to the ladies in her community, toying with the idea of switching to a new religion in order to fit in.

I could go on and on about the actors, all of whom were purposeful and strong in their characters, but the real star of the show is the story itself. It’s heartwarming, funny and devastating at times, but mostly, it’s frighteningly familiar and relevant to the current political climate. Parmar has written a fresh adaptation that’s sure to grow legs after its run at Shaw, already pegged for a 2019 run in Vancouver.

“The Orchard (after Chekhov)” is an incredibly important story of humanity and the fear of losing everything. If at all possible, take a journey north to open your mind and meet the Basrans. You’ll be glad you did.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

“The Orchard (After Chekhov)” runs through September 1 at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre at Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-the-Lake, Ontario. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Grand Hotel’ at The Shaw Festival

James Daly and Michael Therriault and the cast of “Grand Hotel” at The Shaw Festival. Photo by David Cooper.

It’s Berlin in 1928, where the Grand Hotel embodies all that is luxury, glamour, style, and class. Guests come and go, offering only a glimpse into their complex and often chaotic lives. While they’re just glimpses, they illustrate the fact that we’re all complicated beings, colliding with each other in unforeseen and unimagined ways. This is the central theme of Luther Davis’ “Grand Hotel”, currently playing at Niagara-on-the Lake’s Shaw Festival, and one that is perfectly embodied by the show’s setting. Because at a hotel, you see only snippets of the lives of the individuals that are staying there.

. . .a breath of fresh air. . .

The characters and stories featured in “Grand Hotel” are as interesting as they are diverse, including a terminally-ill Jewish bookkeeper who wants to spend his remaining days living in the lap of luxury (Otto Kringelein, played by Michael Therriault); an over-the-hill prima ballerina (Elizaveta Grushinskaya, played by Deborah Hay) who falls for a baron half her age (Baron von Gaigern, played by James Daly); a good-hearted business executive who all-to-easily becomes corrupt (Hermann Preysing, played by Jay Turvey);  a lowly typist who has her eyes set on Hollywood (Frieda Flamm, played by Vanessa Sears); and a cynical doctor who’s been ravaged by the horrors of WWI (Doctor Otternschlag, played by Steven Sutcliffe), to name a few. While these characters are the central players in their respective storylines, they all intersect in the show’s second act when love, money, and lust lead them all to make hugely consequential choices.

If you’ve seen the slightly-more-modern “Cabaret”, you’re familiar with “Grand Hotel’s” story structure, in which the audience is introduced to these various characters and plot lines through the eyes of a narrator; in this case Dr. Otternschlag, one of the hotel’s more long-term guests who can’t find a good enough reason to check out. The competing storylines and big dance numbers also make this show largely reminiscent of “Cabaret”, though it’s decidedly less raunchy and sexual (though not ENTIRELY unsexual). “Grand Hotel” combines the glitz and glam of Broadway (big vocal/dance numbers, chorus lines, and bright lights) with heavy thematic material including poverty, social class, aging, corruption, and sexual deviancy at the hands of powerful men.

The Shaw Festival’s production of “Grand Hotel” is a breath of fresh air, both for it’s top-caliber artistry and because it’s a show that isn’t done incredibly often. The show’s set design is stunning, featuring a luxurious hotel lobby adorned with tall gleaming pillars and a grand staircase. The costumes and makeup are right out of the roaring 20’s. The orchestra was superb, seamlessly transitioning from ballads to waltzes to big band jazz. Most notably, the cast was superb. Though they were all incredible, honorable mentions go to Michael Therriault, who played to eccentric and deeply sad Otto Kringelein; Elizaveta Grushinskaya, the aging prima ballerina; and Baron von Gaigern, the show’s protagonist, played by James Daly.

“Time is running out” is the hallmark line from Grand Hotel. In the show, the line is referencing the lives of its many characters: the bookkeeper with a terminal illness, the aging ballerina whose career is sunsetting, the baron who’s indebted to shady gangsters, etc. Fortunately, the line doesn’t apply to this production of “Grand Hotel,” which runs until October 14th at Shaw’s Festival Theatre. It is one you won’t want to miss.

Running time is 2 hours 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Show contains some adult material.

“Grand Hotel” runs until October 14, 2018 and is presented as part of The Shaw Festival at Niagara-On-The-Lake in Canada. For more information, click here.