'The audience is right there in the room with the Tyrone family while they rake up the past and tear each other apart'

Shakespeare Festival, Ontario
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The Independent Culture
The Stratford Festival (artistic director, Richard Monette) began in a tent in 1953 with just two Shakespeare plays. It is now the largest repertory theatre in North America and mounts productions by international playwrights on three stages from April to November.

Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night benefits enormously from the painful intimacy of the thrust stage. The audience is right there in the room with the Tyrone family while they rake up the past and tear each other apart. Diana Leblanc's beautifully detailed production is excellently acted. The moving performances by William Hutt, Peter Donaldson, Tom McCamus and Martha Henry in particular, as the morphine- addicted wife, are totally without histrionics.

Peter Shaffer has rewritten Amadeus, removing some of the melodramatic strain, but despite a new scene between Mozart (Stephen Ouimette) and Salieri (Brian Bedford), the second act is still flawed. Salieri is on stage all the time and never stops talking. The great strength of the role, however, is his total awareness of his mediocrity and the great strength of Bedford's restrained performance is its ironic humour; he carries the seriousness with the lightest of touches. The man is not evil, merely human: frustrated, jealous, mean. Mozart's irritating falsetto giggling, as affected in the original production and on film, has been cut. His arrogance is as vulgar as ever: "Have you heard Salieri's music?" he asks. "It's the sound of somebody who can't get it up."

There is a very real danger when directing The Boy Friend, Sandy Wilson's affectionate 1950s pastiche of a 1920s musical, of ending up with burlesque rather than pastiche. Brian Macdonald (apart from the casting of a man to play Lady Brockhurst) is almost too straightforward. Authentic in style and spirit, it is easily the most polished and best danced version I have seen.

Monette sets The Merry Wives of Windsor in late Victorian England and the action is punctuated by music hall songs and the can-can. This is a production in which nobody's private parts are safe. Hutt's mellow, genial Falstaff is too laid-back, lacking in any kind of urgency, sexual or otherwise. His best moment is his account of how he was carried in a basket full of dirty laundry and thrown in the Thames. The oft reiterated "Think of that" is beautifully done.

Douglas Campbell directs a clutteredproduction of William Wycherley's The Country Wife without finesse. The cast and harpsichord pound away underlining everything. A statue of a satyr is liable to have an erection every other minute. Tom McCamus's horny, pox-ridden Horner looks as if he has stepped out of a Restoration portrait but the performance is a mere sketch and needs developing. The best scenes are those between Pinchwife (Scott Wentworth), the possessive husband, and Margery (Marion Day), his absurdly honest wife.

Canadian playwright Timothy Findley's The Stillborn Lover, specially written for Hutt and Henry, is a Cold War melodrama set in the 1970s: a mixture of Communist/ homosexual witch-hunt and political subterfuge. Awkward and dated, it is nevertheless infinitely preferable to Macbeth, which takes place in an 11th-century vacuum. The actors have been given little direction and the reality and the supernatural are equally unexciting. The banquet scene is good for a laugh.

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