A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
OSHAWA LITTLE THEATRE
Producer: Claire Crossman, Director: Geoff Coulter
Forty year ago, the Oshawa Little Theatre staged A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS at Eastdale Collegiate, and the company is to be commended for remounting Robert Bolt’s epic drama now in performance at the Russett Avenue building. Director Geoff Coulter writes what a privilege it is to have faced the challenges in re-staging this multi dimensional period piece of Tudor history while exploring the issues of an informed conscience, supreme authority and silence all rich in text and sub textual meaning. It might be a good idea for future audiences in the next two weeks to ensure they are aware of the play’s historical context, otherwise it is easy to be completely lost in this sometimes quickly moving plot.
OLT’s production elements, once again, become a feast for the eyes, and I’m sure Stage Manager Ellie Patte and her team had to have tremendous organization backstage to serve up the goods. Costumes by Alex Amini Costume Design capture magnificently the colours, contours and shapes of the capes, gowns, hats and dresses of the Tudor era. Geoff Coulter and Steven Fraser’s set design makes use of levels and of entrances and exits within the theatre so our eyes are constantly moving when characters are introduced. Colin Hughes’s lighting design is effectively taut even when candles and shadows are used to heighten dramatic intensity. During the first Saturday performance, a few actors did not find their light and were often in shadow when speaking. I’m sure this will be rectified immediately at the next performance.
With a 15-minute intermission, OLT’s production runs three hours so pacing is of utmost importance to maintain momentum in this heavy dialogue driven play. Mr. Coulter has clearly been prepared to remain true to the playwright’s words while being faced with the daunting task of engaging a twenty first century audience to care about a loyal subject and learned man, Sir Thomas More (a heart felt performance by OLT president Michael Schneider), principled in beliefs and traditions of the Catholic faith whose church was extremely corrupt.
Periodically, there were moments at this performance where pacing slowed considerably on account of a number of the actors delivering lines upstage and important plot information was lost. Many of the audience members around me appeared puzzled as they did not hear what was said. Again, I’m sure this will be rectified at this week’s performances.
Chris Furlong is consistently believable and always in the moment as the Common Man. In knowing the historical context that A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS is a story of kings, cardinals, lords and ladies, it is odd to see a commoner break the fourth wall and speak to us. But through this Brechtian characterization, we initially trust and like this man until we see that even commoners are also subject to bribery and corruption.
As Cardinal Wolsey, Oshawa city councillor and actor Rick Kerr evokes beautifully the corruption within the Church at this time in the cardinal’s necessary efforts to secure the divorce for King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Will van der Zyl as Thomas Cromwell emphasizes even further the rampant corruption as the King’s right hand man (read ‘spy’ into this description as well). Mr. van der Zyl’s black costumes along with his swarthy physical appearance render him one to fear especially at the conclusion of Act One where he assaults the untrustworthy Richard Rich (a focused performance by Anthony Labriola). Garret Lee as the Duke of Norfolk convinces us of his desperation and heartbreak when More, his friend, will not administer to the oath of the Act of Succession. Eryk Burns as the Spanish ambassador Signor Chapuys is sly as he slowly tries to get More to open up about his decision in not supporting the divorce.
In spite of a twenty-year absence of doing theatre, James Grist’s performance as the King is highly persuasive and yet stealthy. In one moment, we see a royal who wants to remain jovial and on good terms with his friend, More, while in the next minute we see a King who frighteningly threatens his friend when he clearly tells him, “Your conscience is your own affair, but you are my Chancellor”.
The members of More’s immediate family are conflicted on the patriarch’s decision to remain silent on matter of the King’s divorce. Alison Irons delivers a steely and feisty performance as Lady Alice (Thomas’s second wife) who is fearful of losing her place in society on account of More’s silence. A tender bond of compassion and filial love exists between More and his daughter, Margaret, played sensitively and humanely by Kathryn Fraser. More’s initially head strong future son in law William Roper, played with passion by Tyler Cox, turns to respect for the father figure who clearly wants to confront head on this war on the Catholic Church.
There are wonderful moments of true ensemble work in this production, butit is Michael Schneider’s resonating performanceas the martyred saint who propels the action of this story forward. We witness the creation of a real life human who has faults and weaknesses like any commoner. At the trial scene in this production, we witness a human who moves the audience with high emotion as More knows he has nowhere to turn. The very silence that he thought would free him is the silence that sends him to his death.
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS continues at the Oshawa Little Theatre, 62 Russett Avenue, February 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17 and 18. Tickets are available at the door before each performance. Visit www.oshawalittletheatre.com for further information.