Tag Archives: Margot Devlin

A darkly funny & eerie look into the mind of Lizzie Borden in Blood Relations

Blood Relations : Part drama, part mystery, all compelling. “Did you, Lizzie? Lizzie, did you?”

life with more cowbell

Blood RelationsSo, first, a confession: I’d never read or seen Sharon Pollack’s Blood Relations. Not until last night, that is, at Alumnae Theatre Company’s opening night, directed by Barbara Larose, assisted by Ellen Green.

We are in the Borden home in Fall River, Massachusetts, 10 years after Lizzie Borden’s acquittal of the brutal double murder of her stepmother and father. Ragtime music fills the theatre and, in the dim pre-show lighting onstage, you can make out the main floor of the home: dining room and parlour, separated by a dark wood finish staircase. Down stage right is a pigeon coop; down left is a garden with a stone bench.

The ever present question: “Did you, Lizzie? Lizzie, did you?” sets the scene for a memory game of storytelling, played by Lizzie (Marisa King) and her friend/lover The Actress (Andrea Brown), taking the audience back in time to the circumstances leading…

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“The Lady’s Not For Burning” Talkback, Feb 2

Lady's Not For Burning cast

Cast of “The Lady’s Not For Burning”. BACK ROW:
Chris Coculuzzi (Thomas), Ian Orr (Matthew Skipps), Christopher Kelk (Mayor Tyson), Rob Candy (Tappercoom), Paul Cotton (Humphrey), Chris Whidden (Richard).
FRONT ROW: Andrea Brown (Jennet), Elsbeth McCall (Alizon), Carol McLennan (Margaret), Peter Higginson (The Chaplain).
NOT PICTURED: Ryan Armstrong (Nicholas).  Photo:  Dahlia Katz

As is traditional on the second Sunday of the run, yesterday’s matinee of The Lady’s Not For Burning was followed by a Talkback.  About a third of the audience stuck around for an informative Q&A with director Jane Carnwath, sound designer Angus Barlow, set & lighting designer Ed Rosing, and of course the cast.  Costume designer Margaret Spence was unfortunately not able to make it.  The Q&A was hosted by one of the producers, Barbara Larose.  Scenic artist Cathy McKim took pictures of the set which will soon go up on her blog as a slideshow, and of course I will re-blog for Alumnae.  Following is a sort-of transcript of the questions and answers during the approx 30-minute Talkback.

 Q:           It’s mentioned in the press release that Jane has loved The Lady for a long time.  Can you tell us why?

A:            Director JANE CARNWATH – It was instinctive – before I knew better!  I heard the recording of the original production – 1949?  1950?  [according to my research it was actually 1948 – bloggergal] which starred John Gielguid as Thomas and Pamela Brown as Jennet, and fell in love with the language.  At first I wanted to play Jennet, and then as time went on and that became unlikely, I wanted to play Margaret [the mayor’s sister, mother of Humphrey and Nicholas].  And then when that didn’t happen, I decided I wanted to direct it. Why do I love it?  I love the themes of hope and the possibility of redemption, and I love the characters.

Q:           The language shifted from almost Shakespearean to modern.  Was that in the script?

A:            Director JANE CARNWATH – Yes.  Christopher Fry wrote the play just after World War II, and the language is full of intentional anachronisms.  Fry states that the period is 1400, “either more or less or exactly” – he’s not very concerned about it.  We decided to just do a tip of the hat to the period, and not worry about exact period accuracy.

Q:           There are a lot of doors and exits – was that specified in the script, or a production decision?

A:            Set Designer ED ROSING –  It was necessary!  People are constantly going and coming through doors and windows.  The concept for the set was a house built around a stone room, like a church.  That’s why you’ll see the walls are stone on the inside.  In those days, fabric was used as insulation – we went a step further and put fabric on the walls.  The set in the original production was very Gothic – church-like with lots of arches.  I never forgot that original, but wanted this set to be much more humble and down-to-earth.        [bloggergal’s note:  in the original 1948 production in London’s West End, a then-unknown Richard Burton played Richard, the mayor’s clerk!]         

 Q:           To the actors, what was it like, working with this text?

A:            CHRIS COCULUZZI (Thomas) – I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare over the last 20 years.  This was more challenging!   Maybe because Fry’s language is not so much a part of our culture and consciousness as Shakespeare’s is.

A:            CAROL McLENNAN (Margaret) – They key for me was I found it was essential to e-nun-ci-ate!  You can’t just garble it all together – it has to be understandable to the audience when they hear it for the first time.  Even now we’re still finding things. When I first read for Jane, she said “You were very natural – this play isn’t.”

A:            PAUL COTTON (Humphrey) – Jane insisted we get the language down first, then work on making it natural after.  Which is a reversal of the usual process.

A:            ANDREA BROWN (Jennet) – It’s a journey and a quest with every performance!  The challenge was how to honour the beautiful and poetic language while making it engaging to the audience.

Q:           The cast did a great job in getting the comedy across.

A:            IAN ORR (Matthew Skipps) – This is a comedy??!!

Q:           I noticed in her bio that Andrea has now played an accused witch in two shows.

A:            ANDREA BROWN – Yes, I played Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible just a few months ago.  Spoiler alert: it does not end well for her!  Jennet has a much happier ending.

Q:           (Jane calls the audience’s attention to the sound design)

A:            Sound Designer ANGUS BARLOW – There are about 25 sound cues.  Some are so subtle, it’s like Margot [stage manager Margot Devlin] calls the cue and nothing happens.  We can’t hear it in the booth, but it’s audible to the audience.  It was a challenge to build and run the sound.  We recorded some of the cast to make the noises of the angry mob and the party, and a professional cellist was brought in to record the awful sounds of the viol tuning [actor Peter Higginson, who plays the musically untalented Chaplain, interjects: “it wasn’t me!”].

Q:           It’s a big cast [11 actors] – was everybody at all the rehearsals?

A:            Director JANE CARNWATH – No, we had a few reads all together and then I broke the script into scenes and tried to bring actors in only when they would be used.   When we finally get to run all the scenes together it takes a huge leap forward.  This was one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with – a lot happened onstage; the actors made it come together.  I had a great time with the production because I was also working with people I’ve worked with before – Ed, Angus, Margaret, Margot… it’s been wonderful.

The Lady’s Not For Burning runs to Saturday Feb 8.  Four more performances:  Wed – Sat at 8pm.  Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wed, and $20 Thu – Sat (unless you purchase day-of tickets at half price at the T.O. Tix booth!).  reservations@alumnaetheatre.com


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Wit, wonder & wisdom in The Lady’s Not For Burning @ Alumnae Theatre

life with more cowbell

Lady's Not For Burning - image only“Life, forbye, is the way

We fatten for the Michaelmas of our own particular

Gallows. What a wonderful thing is metaphor!”

– Thomas Mendip in The Lady’s Not For Burning (from director’s program notes)

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of The Lady’s Not For Burning, directed by Jane Carnwath, brings the wit, wonder and wisdom of Christopher Fry’s play to life through sight, sound and poetic wordplay – an excellent cast and a beautiful show.

The marvelous ensemble includes some remarkable stand-outs. Chris Coculuzzi gives us a Thomas Mendip that combines the melancholy philosophy of a Jacques with the good-humoured wit of a Fool, and Andrea Brown is luminous as Jennet Jourdemayne, quirky, sharp-witted and compassionate. Together, their performances show us opposite perspectives of the all too fleeting realization of the nature of the human condition: we live, suffer out our short time in these bodies – yes – and…

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Fly on the wall at “The Lady’s Not For Burning” rehearsal

This coming weekend, the cast & crew of The Lady’s Not For Burning swing into Tech.   Usually, designers, operators and crew work out the technical cues under the leadership of the stage manager on Saturday, and Sunday is the Cue-to-Cue rehearsal with actors.  “To lessen the pain”, as SM Margot Devlin says, the producers (Barbara Larose, Ellen Green) will provide lunch for everyone.

I sat in for a piece of last Saturday’s rehearsal (Jan 4), just to see how it’s going.  In a big group scene from near the beginning of the play, Thomas the ex-soldier (Chris Coculuzzi) is trying to convince the villagers that he’s murdered people and should be hanged – “What about my murders?”, he keeps asking.  Only to be continually dismissed by the town’s Mayor Tyson (Christopher Kelk):  “It will all be gone into at the proper time.”  The mayor is somewhat harried because at the same time,  a local girl, Jennet (Andrea Irwin Brown) is accused of witchcraft and turning a man into a dog.  Stage Manager Margot read in for absent actor Chris Whidden, who plays Richard, the mayor’s clerk.  [For those keeping count, there are 3 actors named Chris/Christopher in this production, plus the playwright Christopher Fry!]

I also saw a run of a scene near the end of the play, featuring the entire cast: everyone from the earlier scene – including  Carol McLennan as the Mayor’s sister Margaret;  Ryan Armstrong and Paul Cotton as her  sons; Elsbeth McCall as Alizon, the girl they both want;  and Peter Higginson as the guitar-toting* Chaplain – plus the magistrate Tappercoom (Rob Candy),  and Ian Orr having a grand ol’ time as the drunken rag & bone man Matthew Skipps.  “Aren’t you dead?” asks Thomas.  “You’ve been dead for hours.”

After the scene runs, director Jane Carnwath gave notes to the actors.  Was intrigued to notice the start of a medieval village backdrop, which scenic artist Cathy McKim (who will be creating stone, wood and stucco finishes, and of course using the “magical” colour of burnt umber) reports will be the last thing painted.

Here’s her initial sketch presented to set designer Ed Rosing – it’s from November, so things may have changed: Lady's Not For Burning bkdrop sketch     *I was curious about the guitar that the Chaplain (Peter Higginson) carried.  So I asked him about it.  Here’s his delightfully tongue-in-cheek e-mail response.

BLOGGERGAL:  Hey, do you actually play the guitar you were carrying in Lady?

PETER:   Regrettably, no – I don’t play guitar – though that prop I might be able to manage as a percussion tool as it has no strings!! The Chaplain can only play religious dirges with any accomplishment and, I am assured, will never have to pluck or bow the strings on stage – the paucity of his (my) talent will be represented by discordant sounds through the magic of those that deal with the complexities of producing the audio fabric for this mysterious but magical play – but also, please note, the instrument is more likely to resemble a viola than a guitar.

Audiences will have the opportunity to see the whole thing come together on Alumnae Theatre’s Mainstage as of January 24, where it runs to February 8.  Tickets can be purchased online via our website www.alumnaetheatre.com, or you can reserve seats by phone (416-364-4170 xtn 1) or email  reservations@alumnaetheatre.com and pay cash on arrival.  Showtimes:  8pm Wed – Sat; 2pm Sun.  Tickets are $20 Thu – Sat; 2-for-1 on Wednesdays; and PWYC for Sunday matinees.  No service charge on cash sales at Box Office.  Feeling spontaneous?  Spin by the T.O. Tix booth in Yonge/Dundas Square on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, and pick up half-price same-day tickets (+ service charge).

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Meet the cast of “A Woman of No Importance” – part 3, + review

A Woman of No Importance enjoyed a bang-up opening weekend, with near-sold out, enthusiastic houses.  I had a chance to chat with cast member Kathleen Pollard at the post-show reception on opening night, and urged her to respond to the questions I sent the cast a couple of weeks ago.   So here are her answers.

Archdeacon Daubeny (Jason Thompson- far right) expounds about his saintly wife to anyone who will listen - Farquhar the butler (Daniel Staseff, left), Frances the maid (Kathleen Pollard), and Lady Hunstanton (Andy Fraser):  "Her deafness is a great privation to her. She can't even hear my sermons now."Photo: Bruce Peters

Archdeacon Daubeny (Jason Thompson- far right) expounds about his saintly wife to anyone who will listen – Farquhar the butler (Daniel Staseff, left), Frances the maid (Kathleen Pollard), and Lady Hunstanton (Andy Fraser): “Her deafness is a great privation to her. She can’t even hear my sermons now.”
Photo: Bruce Peters

Q#1:      Who do you play in A Woman of No Importance?  Tell us a little about your character.

KATHLEEN POLLARD:  I play two characters in the show:  the first is a pretentious maid named Frances – servant to Lady Hunstanton; and the second is a shy tenant of Mrs. Arbuthnot’s house – who also essentially acts as her servant.

Q#2:      Director Paul Hardy has changed the setting of the play from the 1890’s (which is when Oscar Wilde wrote it) to the 1980’s.  What surprised you about making the time switch?  Did you discover issues or social mores that were surprisingly similar (or not) almost 100 years apart?  

KATHLEEN POLLARD:  I was surprised at first when Paul announced his intention to change the setting…but I’ve been totally amazed at how timely the play really feels.  Paul made some strategic cuts to the script, and the way the dialogue flows between the characters feels very modern and I think it lends itself well to the new setting.  Gender biases and the social expectations of men and women haven’t changed that much, it would seem. The actors have also done a tremendous job of finding a rhythm to their way of speaking, which also really brings out the humour.

Q#3:      Can you relate any anecdotes from rehearsal (e.g. : another actor – in character or out – doing something unexpected)?

KATHLEEN POLLARD:  Hmm, well…an embarrassing moment for me happened during a run of the show in our last week of rehearsal before opening night.  We were deep into the run, and partway through Act 4, when suddenly my cellphone alarm started going off.  The phone was in my jacket pocket, which I’d left in the audience seating…and even though the ringer was on silent, the alarm went off at full volume.  The thing is, my alarm ringtone is set to a dog barking.  So for the first minute or so, Paul, Margot [stage manager Margot Devlin] and Angus [sound designer Angus Barlow] are looking around wondering whose dog is outside the theatre and why it won’t shut up.  Then gradually it dawns on them that this “dog” has an awfully mechanical way of barking, and realized that someone, somewhere, had let their phone go off.  I couldn’t hear it backstage, and there was about 7 or 8 minutes left of the show, so everyone soldiered on.  But I certainly had to face the music once we finished the run.

Q#4:      Do you have a favourite line or moment from the play – yours or anyone else’s?

KATHLEEN POLLARD:  There are so many witty lines spoken throughout the play.  My characters only have about 4 lines between them…but I think one of my favourite lines is Lady Hunstanton’s:  “He died almost immediately of joy…or gout; I forget which.”.

Kathleen also filled me in on a little tidbit about Gillian English’s  costume: the gold pleather pants that Lady Caroline Pontefract wears (Lady C  apparently shares the wacky fashion sense of Eddie [Jennifer Saunders] in the Britcom Absolutely Fabulous)  are very noisy to walk in.  So Gillian has to carefully position her legs apart, or the pants will squeak!

The production has already garnered a couple of excellent reviews – see FAB’s at  http://www.fabmagazine.com/fab-blog/next-gay-theatre-review-a-woman-of-no-importance and Life With More Cowebell’s at http://lifewithmorecowbell.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/a-woman-of-no-importance-time-travels-to-1985-alumnae-theatre/

A Woman of No Importance runs to Feb 9 – see http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213woman.html  for showtimes and reservation info.  You can purchase tickets online in advance (Thu – Sat shows only) at www.totix.ca  Day-of discounts are available in person at T.O. Tix booth in Yonge-Dundas Square.

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“A Woman of No Importance” Stage Manager’s Dec 19 rehearsal notes – it’s all about the sex

Woman of No Importance - new imageMore from Margot Devlin, the most excellent Stage Manager of A Woman of No Importance.  As you know, she is shocked and appalled by all the sexy innuendo (smut, I tell you; SMUT!) to be found in Oscar Wilde.  Excerpts from her notes:

 –        [Act 1, scene 4] this is a seduction scene.

–       Lord Illingworth [played by Andrew Batten] is a sex addict – exhaust all hedonistic pleasures because that is all that is left.

–       Wilde put all his negative feelings about hedonism into Illingworth.

–       Addict or no, there is something like that in Mrs. Allonby [played by Paula Schultz] – she is disappointed in sex itself.

–       The anticipation is the fun part for Allonby

–       The more “at risk” they are the better.

–       Illingworth is so revolting to Mrs. Arbuthnot  [Áine Magennis].

–       Paul [director Paul Hardy] discussed his banquet burger dinner and how it was affecting him.

The cast will be put through their paces tonight (Thu Dec 20):  a full run is scheduled, along with a costume parade!  The first run-through is often a terrifying but necessary step.  This is when the actors experience the full shape of the play (which up to now has been rehearsed in non-sequential bits), and in a large cast like this, probably see other actors that they haven’t worked with since the early stages.  And now, the director can finally judge whether what he has envisioned will translate into live action.  Break legs, folks!

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“A Woman of No Importance” Stage Manager’s notes from rehearsal, Dec 8 – sex, sex all the time

You know, as much as she claims to be shocked by it, Margot Devlin, the very proper Stage Manager of A Woman of No Importance, faithfully reports all instances of sex-related topics that come up in rehearsal.  To wit, here are some excerpts from her notes on Saturday’s rehearsal  (Dec 8) – they were working on the end of the play:

 –       Paul [director Paul Hardy] was discussing the “sexual” relationship between Mrs. Arbuthnot and Lord Illingworth.

–       He used words such as carnal, hot, sexy.

–       He directed Andrew [Batten, playing the lascivious Lord Illingworth] to look Aine [Magennis, playing the virtuous Mrs. Arbuthnot] up and down like a piece of meat.

–       The more physical the scene is, the more that Arbuthnot will change and react to Illingworth.

–       Paul asked if Aine could poke Gerald [Mrs. Arbuthnot’s son, played by Nicholas Porteous] and then he yelled at me to get his mind out of the gutter – the nerve of him!

–       Gerald said later that any poking would be above swim-suit level.

To see the final product in all its sexy Dynasty-style 1980’s  glory (costume designer Brandon Kleiman is having a wonderful time with glitz and shoulder pads), come check out A Woman of No Importance when it opens January 25.

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