Bard on the Beach 2009 Dramas: Othello & Richard II

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DAN ON OTHELLO

I was fortunately blessed with the opportunity to take in a few of the performances at this year’s Bard on the Beach festival, making its twentieth year run in Vancouver’s Vanier Park. Once again the background setting for the night was picturesque; the epic Kits Beach with a view overlooking the Northshore Mountains and the vast ocean with the many cargo ships littering the horizon.  

The play for the night was a bit of a switch-of-pace from the previous night’s performance, as I was seeing Othello, one of Shakespeare’s many devastating tragedies. Unfortunately, I must admit that my references of the play were a bit rusty and I once again leveraged the festival program to refresh my memory of the tale. Even worse is my recollection isn’t even credited to that of Shakespeare, or reading the play while growing up, but instead the Hollywood adaptation film ‘O’ starring Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles. A tragedy in itself! 

After a quick read of the program and a brief discussion with the adorable woman sitting beside me the show opened with a brief introduction from the Artistic Director, Christopher Gaze. He welcomed everyone once again to another groundbreaking year for Bard on the Beach. To his thanks, the four running shows have been selling out, with the rest of this month booked solid; a definite plus for the arts during this economic downtown (I just couldn’t resist – everyone’s saying it). 

I must fully admit when the show opened I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t like this play as much as the Comedy of Errors, for the simple fact of not necessarily understanding the dialogue, or missing out on the ability to laugh and connect with the characters. After five minutes of the actor portrayals I was hooked, deeply involved with each player as their characters evolved and emotions heightened.  


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Photo by David Cooper

During the intermission I was thankful for the simple break from intensity, as each performer truly had the audience on the edge of their seats. Michael Blake as Othello and Bob Frazer as Iago, simply put, were legendary. So true were they in their abilities that I honestly felt these men’s strife and tribulations. No one could have convinced me otherwise that these two men weren’t truly experiencing the emotions they were emitting. Just plain damn brilliant. Let me not forget Naomi Wright as Desdemona, nor Jennifer Lines as Emilia. The deepest of friendships bonded these two female characters on stage, and when tragedy struck Desdemona, at the first doubts cast towards her by Othello, I honestly believe Lines (as Emilia) was shedding real tears while consoling her confident. Unreal acting made this production truly spectacular. Sweat, tears and fake blood spared none; the experience has yet to be rivaled by any performance I’ve seen in the past at the Bard. 

If you don’t already have tickets, I whole-heartedly recommend that you see this play. Forgo the stuffy movie theatres (as I’ll continue to reiterate to anyone that will listen) and enjoy the beautiful scenery that Vancouver has to offer while enjoying one of the greatest artists’ work portrayed to near perfect. From a country-loving man of little culture, take my words as you will, but don’t miss this epic opportunity. 

To the Bard, it’s production staff and all of the actors/stage hands that took part in this production. Thank you. Sincerely, thank you. ? ? 

BRIAN ON RICHARD II

I can always tell that summer has arrived in Vancouver when the Bard on the Beach tents arrive and are erected on the grassy shores of south English Bay’s Vanier Park.

The shakespeare inspired theatre setting makes an excellent date night, family outing, or just a fun evening with friends; doing something other than the bars, clubs, and usual movie theatre outings. This year I was happy to receive the invitation to join Donovan for Bard’s Richard II. We arrived at the smaller of the two tents approximately 20 minutes before the show. I would recommend going even earlier if you want the better seats as you can tag your own seat when you arrive and then go out to gather refreshments and mingle in the amongst the tents. During this time you can also learn more about about Shakespeare by joining one of the complimentary chatterbox sessions. As the production was about to start I looked around the room at an eclectic gathering of thespians, students, teachers, and an obviously yet pleasantly different crowd than an we would find at your average downtown haunt that I am more familiar with.

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The play utilized a small but versatile stage which represented with very little staging a number of different sets upon which the play would take place. The backdrop is stunning with the sun setting over the bay and city.

As you watch the play unfold we follow King Richard II through an internal and external struggle which included waging a war in Ireland, returning home to a treasonous England, and finally a bout of seemingly insane behaviors that eventually lead to his final death by the hand of one of Bolingbroke’s men. Old english abounds and the skill of the actors is truly shown in this production. I have to commend the talented men and women who deliver such authentic performances. The official synopsis is as follows:

Richard II
[Written c. 1595]

As the play opens, King Richard II is faced with a challenge. His cousin, Henry Bolingbroke has accused Sir Thomas Mowbray of having murdered the Duke of Gloucester. The situation is politically delicate for Richard as there have been whispers that Gloucester was actually murdered on the King’s orders. King Richard decides that Bolingbroke and Mowbray will decide their case by combat, according to the laws of chivalry. However, just before the contest is to begin, Richard stops it and pronounces his sentence: Bolingbroke is banished for ten years and Mowbray is banished for life.

Shortly after the banished Bolingbroke departs England, his wealthy, aged father, John of Gaunt, dies. King Richard needs money to put down an Irish rebellion, so he disinherits Bolingbroke and confiscates John of Gaunt’s estate. His coffers now overflowing with the wealth belonging to Bolingbroke, King Richard departs for Ireland, leaving his uncle, the Duke of York, in charge of the kingdom.

Bolingbroke defies his banishment and returns to England with an army to claim his inheritance. He is joined by several noblemen who support his cause. The Duke of York asks three of the king’s favourites, Bushy, Bagot and Green, to raise armies of their own to defend King Richard. Instead, they all flee. Lacking support and power, and acknowledging Bolingbroke’s wrongs, the Duke of York chooses not to challenge his nephew.

After an embarrassing failure in Ireland, Richard hears of Bolingbroke’s rebellion. Salisbury goes to Wales to raise an army to fight in King Richard’s cause, but ten days pass without any word from the King, so the army disperses, believing he must be dead. When the King returns to his kingdom, he has no army and only a few supporters.

When Bolingbroke and King Richard meet, Bolingbroke confirms his loyalty to the King and assures him that he comes only to claim his inheritance. Richard, however, surrenders the crown. Bolingbroke is crowned King Henry IV and Richard is arrested and put into prison. On his way to prison, Richard bids farewell to his Queen, who is then sent to France.

In prison, Richard reflects on the nature of life and kingship, concluding, “I wasted time, and now doth Time waste me.” Sir Piers Exton, hoping to curry favour with King Henry, murders Richard in his cell. He is immediately remorseful, but takes Richard’s body to King Henry in hopes of receiving Henry’s gratitude for ridding him of a ‘living fear’. The King sends Exton away without thanks and expresses dismay at the murder. He announces his intent to visit the Holy Land to make amends.

Although the synopsis is a great summary of the plot it can’t possibly express the talent of the actors who brought this brilliant play to life. I hope that this article serves to peak your interest and provides adequate motvation to head over the Burrard bridge and see the excellent production.

Bard on the Beach runs until September 26th 2009 in Vancouver BC Canada. It is a wothwhile evening for any local or tourist. Excellent local talent, a breathtaking waterfront theatre setting, and engaging shakespearian plots. This being the theaters 20th year makes it an ideal time to attend this well established Vancouver tradition.