Thursday evening was the first of two HD film presentations at Cineplex Theatres of Stratford Festival‘s production of King John by Wm. Shakespeare. It will play again in matinee on Sunday, April 12th @ 12:55 p.m.
King John is not one of the more popular of Shakespeare’s plays but it is full of political intrigue, battles, treachery, and changing fortunes. And with Tom McCamus playing a rather capricious (dare we say, at times foolish) King John, Seanna McKenna playing the part of Constance, widow of John’s older brother Geoffrey, and mother of Arthur, Duke of Brittany, and Patricia Collins playing Eleanor of the Aquitaine, the king’s mother, you have the makings of an excellent production. (You will remember Eleanor, John, and Geoffrey from The Lion in Winter.)
The King of France has aligned himself with Constance and Arthur and demands King John relinquish his throne in favour of young Arthur. John refuses, and declares war. There are a couple of side bars to the main plot: a bastard son of Richard the Lionheart (John’s oldest brother), brings a dispute to King John over the inheritance of his “father’s” lands, and John’s niece is wed to the Dauphin of France to bring about peace. However, a cardinal from Rome excommunicates John for keeping the archbishop of Canterbury instead of a bishop from Rome, so France, now, the wedding not-withstanding, dares not ally itself with John. The bastard (played by Graham Abbey) renounces his father’s lands, is knighted ‘Sir Richard’ by John and goes with him to France.
Despite tour de force performances by the leading players in this offering, the show is totally stolen out from under them by the amazing acting of Noah Jalava as young Prince Arthur. An unfortunate obstacle in the path of King John, Arthur is to be executed by Hubert (Wayne Best), a citizen of Angiers who engineers the tentative peace between England and France, and goes on to serve the king on his return to England. Hubert unwillingly takes on the task of executing the young prince he has come to not only respect but hold in affection. The scene between the two is fraught with tension as the prince pleads his case convincingly. Graham Abbey, also is outstanding as he brings a saucy, swaggering counter-play to war and subterfuge in the early part of the play, but then proves a loyal, and righteous advocate for both Arthur and the king.
The costumes are absolutely sumptuous and the second half of the play is ominously lit by candles and lanterns, but the whole tone is set by the dramatic opening and closing of the play as the entire cast enters chanting what I would have to describe as early, solemn church music accompanied by slow, sweeping dance movements, all of which lends a rather tragic air to the play. Filmed in the Tom Patterson Theatre (a converted curling rink), there is an authentic intimacy between players and audience as Abbey plays up to theatre goers with great humour and wit, especially during the first part. It also allows them to achieve great camera angles as well as engaging close-ups. This is theatre fit for a queen! * * * * *
Check venues in Canada for tomorrow’s presentation. The movie will also be showing in more than 350 theatres across the United States and some participating worldwide events. Stratford Festival is committed to showing all of Shakespeare’s plays over the next ten years. The third production to air this season will be Antony and Cleopatra coming in May.