The Battle of Blenheim & A Mother-In-Law From HellSaturday, October 27, 2012
Last week Rosemary and I attended the opening of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre.
At the very least I can assert here that both of us did lots of laughing. The play entertained us. That would have been enough to get us home in a good mood at having sacrificed a cozy evening at home for a cool and rainy day outing to the theatre.
But there was more, lot’s more.
Consider the short-haired man sitting to my right. I almost did not recognize him as I had photographed lighting man Itai Erdal back in 2006 for the Georgia Straight. Six years have passed and on Erdal’s face I could still read enthusiasm, passion, wonder. I am positive that the Millerd folks have not hired a claque to laugh at plays or to clap with gusto. And yet there were moments in She Stoops to Conquer when the only ones laughing (and loudly we were) were Erdal and me. He was enjoying the play, not as an established and renowned lighting man, who as a matter of fact lit the show, but as one of us.
On stage the good cast became invisible to me with the standout performance of the “future mother-in-law-from hell", Mrs. Harcastle played by Leslie Jones.
Back in July 2000 when I photographed Leslie Jones I remember calling up Straight theatre critic Colin Thomas for some info on Jones. By 2000 writers in local publications did not write weeks before but to tight deadlines a mere hours before publication. Sending a photographer a draft of manuscript to give an idea of one’s subject was by then fading into memory. By then magazines and newspapers had entered the age of the phoner. This meant that writers and reporters would shun face to face interviews with local people to the convenience of the phone and a bit later the email. What ever happened to Skype?
I needed input to Leslie Jones. I don’t like to photography my subjects cold turkey without previous knowledge of who they are and what they are like.
Mr. Thomas told me, “Leslie has lovely blue eyes.” That was it.
From my very good seats I could still not see Jones’s blue eyes, but I was mesmerized by her over-the-top performance as a woman that would certainly have precluded Goldsmith from writing a sequel to the play. I am sure that as soon as the darkish handsome heartthrob/almost fop Charles Marlow (played by Luc Roderique who reminded me of Leslie Howard in the 1932 The Scarlet Pimpernel) saw Mrs. Harcastle in action any promises of marriage to her daughter Kate Harcastle, Jenifer Mawhinney would be cancelled on the spot.
As an aside I always enjoy any performance (even if it does not include the influence of gin) of Norman Bowering who was a very funny and unduly patient Mr. Hardcastle. Imagine a man like that married to his Mrs. Hardcastle?
Mr. Harcastle attempted many times to tell the story of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy to a non interested Charles Marlow. I wanted to stand up and shout, “Listen to him it’s a good story!”
The relationship the two generals had (a rarity between generals) and how it led to the decisive battle of Blenheim (13 August 1704) was deftly told in the book Battle of Blenheim, a lovely book I read back in 2004 by one Charles Spencer. Charles Spencer?
Charles Edward Maurice Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer DL (born 20 May 1964), styled Viscount Althorp between 1975 and 1992, is a British peer and brother of Diana, Princess of Wales. He is an author, print journalist and broadcaster.
The play took me back to my infancy, even though I did not live in Goldsmith’s 18th century. As a little boy of 6 or 7 my mother and I would get on a tram in Buenos Aires to visit her mother downtown. There we would be accompanied by my aunt and uncle. My aunt would play the violin, my mother the piano and my uncle and grandmother would sing. I was bored but I suffered and now I see this as part of what was the age of the radio and movies. TV was yet to come as well as that TV invention the laugh track. This production of She Stoops to Conquer includes a lively acting choir including a fiddle player and a mandolin man.
I was charmed in the opening of the play by a set (David Roberts), a simple one (almost as it later featured lots of structures that went up and down) that featured warm autumn colours in a leafy garden. To my surprise I found later that the warm ochre shifted into cool blues and greens. How was this possible?
At the end of the show I asked Erdal, who told me, “I love sets that are open on the side. The original colour of the leafy sets is light green. With lighting I can change their colour.”
She Stoops to Conqurer closes on November 18