Review by Martin Wallace
Theatre Arts Guild (TAG) advertises itself as “Canada's oldest continuously operating community theatre.” While in some cases the term “community theatre” can seem as much a warning as a description (think of “Waiting for Guffman”), in the case of TAG what’s remarkable is the level of professionalism that seems evident in every aspect of a production.
Last Thursday, I attended the opening night of TAG’s production of Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons,” (which the older among us may remember most from the 1967 film adaption), the story of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII, who, for reasons of religious conviction, refused to endorse the King’s wish to divorce his Queen and marry the sister of his former mistress. While the specific political and theological issues may seem distant from the concerns of a modern audience, the theme of sticking to one’s beliefs, in the midst of overwhelming pressure to change them, is timeless. “A Man for All Seasons” is a dark and complex play and its inclusion in the 2012-2013 season shows TAG’s laudable commitment to producing a wide range of material.
While, to me, the performances seemed uneven (the subtle irony of some of the dialogue was blunted or left un-mined and not all performers had good control of their accents), Phil Reid grounds the play with a subtle portrayal of More as a quietly thoughtful man whose conviction is so strong that he need neither seek out nor respond to conflict to prove it. Such restraint lends particular energy to those moments when More breaks free emotionally, as with an affecting farewell scene with More’s wife, ably played by Ruth Anne Flemming
The production itself is a master class in stagecraft. The staging and lighting is deceptively simple and the costumes look authentically 16th century and seem perfectly tailored to the actors’ bodies. The Guild’s own notes call the production “minimalist,” but that underplays the attention to detail evident here—if you can fulfill your purpose simply, that’s not “minimalism,” that’s precision.
If you’re unfamiliar with TAG and more accustomed to heading downtown for your dramatic needs, I do recommend heading to the playhouse, located off the Purcell’s Cove Road at 6 Parkhill Road, not only for “A Man for All Seasons,” but for any of TAG’s upcoming plays. Even if—heaven forfend—you find yourself not enjoying a production, you can enjoy spending time amongst people who clearly love theatre and care about their craft. (And TAG has the most comfortable seats I’ve encountered! Putatively trivial, I know, but, as a theatre-goer, it’s something I treasure.)
“A Man for All Seasons” runs Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm until May 4, plus one matinee at 2pm on Sunday April 28. For information on tickets, the production and the Theatre Arts Guild, visit: http://www.tagtheatre.com/
* A special thank you to TAG for co-hosting/facilitation our creative contest with a twist!