by Kelly Bedard
What makes The Admirable Crichton so notable is that it’s the only Shaw Festival production in my top 5 that really fits with the festival’s brand. While not a GB Shaw script, This JM Barrie play enjoys the conventional staging, English accents and Shavian commentary on the class system that proved so ineffective in many of the festival’s other productions this season. But The Admirable Crichton is actually pretty great. It’s more than great, actually, it’s my favourite full length production in 2011 at The Shaw Festival.
Designer Ken MacDonald’s set is both gorgeous and fascinating with lots of dimension and detail for the eye to discover throughout the play’s 2 hours and 20 minutes. The addition of a scrim downstage allows for some brilliant moments such as the interactive sketch of the play’s first setting that’s generated mid-scene and superimposed into the action.
Nicole Underhay is the other highlight as the greatly changing Lady Mary Lasenby. Her spoiled princessery in act one is played with humanity and a refreshing lack of condescension, allowing the character her deserved redemption as the play progresses. Even though the play skips over most of Mary’s development into the rough and tumble adventurer she plays in acts two and three, Underhay plants the seeds of that spirit early enough that it’s not that jolting to see her emerge as sort of kickass. It’s similarly understandable that she would develop a strong connection to Crichton- both because she recognizes his greatness and because the weakness in her character draws her to those in power. Though Mary submits to the resumed order of things in the final act, Underhay masterfully portrays her pathetically masked longing for the happier days of the island and Crichton’s rule.
|photos by David and Emily Cooper|
If you only see one production at The Shaw Festival this year, make it The Admirable Crichton. More than any of the other really successful productions, this one does what the Shaw does and does it really well.
The Admirable Crichton plays at the Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 29th.