I liked this production a lot. It is fun, complex, has a beautiful, functional set lighting effects and costumes, and some wonderful performances.
Aside from the superb technical aspects, the plays works on two levels: the dog plot, and the human plot. We are more familiar with the human plot: Will Shakespere, Shakespee, Shagspere, Shakespeare wants a career as an actor, and sees that his only chance to do so from the backwater of Stratford Upon Avon is to perform before the great Sir Richard Burbage, who is supposedly bringing his renowned acting company to town. But the stronger plot is the dog plot: the play’s narrator, and the audience’s confidant is Hooker, Will’s dog, who is accused of killing a local deer in the newly expropriated parklands of a local lord. The punishment is to have his pawpads removed with a razor, or more likely, to have his legs removed. If he does not do the right thing, and turn himself in, all the other dogs will be crucified, and his owner (Will, of course) will be punished. Dramatic stuff.
All of this will conspire drive Will and Hooker to London and a life writing plays.
Much of the fun of the play comes from the conceit that Hooker is more creative and more philosophical and poetic than Will, who is really just a naive romantic.
The dog population consists of two oversexed female dogs and three male dogs, one very old and thoughtful, the other, a rival to Hooker. The female dogs are hyterically played by Marina Stephenson Kerr and Ardith Boxall, whose imaginative costumes, complete with tails, are lasciviously wielded and gave the actors wonderful business possibilities. Arne MacPherson’s Hooker is multidimensional: he can spout some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines as if it makes sense for a dog to say them. And that’s a great part of the fun of this play; we hear many of the best lines from Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet come out of the dogs’ mouths as well as the humans’.
One of the most striking cribs from Shakespeare was the script will writes for the famous producer, suprisingly played by Barry MacGregor. In it, he quickly scribbles what would turn out to be the rough draft of Hamlet, in which Hamlet dies in scene I. The balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet comes out of a brilliantly zany scene between Anne Hathaway and Will.
If you like Shakespeare, these lines will give you a great chance to enjoy all the entendres. Aside from that, the whole thing is a great rollicking two act evening. Well done.
The National Arts Centre English Theatre
Peter Hinton, Artistic Director
By Rick Chafe
Adapted from the Governor General’s Award-winning novel by Leon Rooke (1981)
Directed by Larry Desrochers
A National Arts Centre English Theatre / Manitoba Theatre Centre (Winnipeg) coproduction
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Manitoba Theatre Centre
John Shakespeare: Frank Adamson
Mary Shakespeare/Moll: Sharon Bakker
Marr: Ardith Boxall
Wolf: Toby Hughes
Will Shakespeare: Harry Judge
Ralph Chadrey, Onion: Greg Kramer
Sir Richard Doyle: Barry MacGregor
Hooker: Arne Peterson
Joan Shakespeare: Daria Puttaert
Terry: Marina Stephenson Kerr
Anne Hathaway: Helen Taylor
Davey Jones: David Warburton
Stage Manager: Paul A. Skirzyk
Assistant Stage Manager: Samira Rose
Fight Captain: Greg Kramer
Directed by Larry Derochers
Set and Costume Design by Brian Perchaluk
Lighting Design by John Bent Jr.
Fight Direction by Robert Borges
Performance seen: March 29, 2008, 7:30 pm Running time: 2 hours, 25 min, including 20 min intermission.