Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Arms and the Man

Class and Cowardice Revealed
by Jim Murchison 

On this evening the weather network was reporting that we might end up seeing as much Tempest as Arms and the Man, but as luck would have it, though there was some momentary spitting I went home completely dry, unlike those rainless days of oppressive humidity that leave you coated in a layer of wet air and your own sweat.

This production combines the use of Commedia dell'arte and ballet with naturalism. Director Andy Massingham understands physical comedy extremely well, so the physicality of the production executed by this balanced cast reinforces Shaw's themes of class, war, diplomacy and courtship.

Phillipa Leslie who plays Raina is extensively trained in ballet. She uses moves that would provoke gasps and sighs of pleasure in a pas de deux, that in this play expose convention and artifice of feigned sincerity to comic effect. There is a moment when Raina's facade is exposed and she speaks and moves absolutely naturally that is profoundly effective.

There are no weak links in the cast.

Attila Clemann as Captain Bluntschli skillfully competes with the fatigue of his own body to fight off sleep in a memorable scene. He is also very adept in the exasperated silent aside. A frozen look out to the audience while everyone else is scurrying about in panic or exaggerated confusion is a very effective use of stillness.

There are no weak links in the cast. Dylan George as Major Saranoff struts about with a self righteous pomp evocative of Basil Fawlty. Doreen Taylor-Claxton as Catherine Petkoff tiptoes about like a door mouse scurrying for crumbs. David Warburton as Major Petkoff plants himself steadfastly and pronounces truisms though he is clearly the least perceptive individual at every point of the action. Claire Armstrong plays the servant Louka with a confident, worldly saunter that makes it clear she is more than her station in life dictates. Pierre Brault, most known for his solo work is a pleasure to see in an ensemble again, bobbing and weaving his way through the action like a welterweight avoiding a punch, as the resourceful servant Nicola.

Everyone in the play wears a mask, either attached or painted and the same set pieces are moved about to create different spaces and uses. Almut Ellinghaus designed the masks and Snezana Pesic the set, which with Alex Amini's costumes and Ron Ward's lighting put the finishing touches on a very entertaining evening.

Although I highlighted what is distinctive and different about this production, I would like to clarify that everything supports Shaw's words. The challenges of an upstage driven breeze, the occasional overhead flight and the visual style never made the text take a back seat, as the cast spoke with clarity of thought and emotion and projected it well. It is very clear that everyone involved understood what Shaw was saying about class structure, pretence, war and love when they mounted this production.

It is direct and performed with precision but also with heart and soul.  

runtime: approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Arms and the Man runs until August 25

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