July in Ottawa throws me off, it really does. Fringe is over, and all the regular theatre seasons are ALSO being over, and it seems like it’s just the park shows left (it’s totally not, but it just SEEMS like that for a while). So my instinct is to kind of stretch them out a little, make them last…or at least, that’s my excuse for always being so damned late in reviewing the park shows. I’m ALL about the excuses.
But when Queen Margo Mac herself calls you out and asks you when you’re coming to see her show, it’s time to put the excuses on the shelf, check the schedule, and get your butt to the park for some torchlight Shakespeare! Those merry pranksters A Company of Fools are back touring parks in the Ottawa area, and this year they’ve set their sights upon HENRY V, under the direction of good guy Geoff McBride. Along with Margo MacDonald, the cast includes Virginia West, Kelly Rigole, Simon Bradshaw and Katie Ryerson. And if that sounds like an awful lot of girl names for a Shakespeare play, you’re right…the Fools have turned the tables and have the gals playing nearly all the roles in this adaptation. And If you know anything about anything, you were as excited as I was to hear that Margo MacDonald was going to be playing Henry the Fifth.
The other players all tackle multiple roles throughout this, easily one of the most entertaining times at the theatre (outside or not) you’ll have this year. I’d never caught Virginia West onstage before, but she made great hay of roles like loyal Fluellen, and decrepit old Erpingham. Kelly Rigole, always a treat, leapt and scowled with gusto as ultraviolent Pistol, and crusty miner MacMorris. Katie Ryerson is painfully funny as the treacherous Dauphin, boasting of her horse and armour with almost superhuman preening. And Simon Bradshaw serves as our chorus/narrator, as well a very memorable French herald and , even more memorably, the princess Katherine. The ‘seduction’ scene towards the end of Henry V is one of my fav’rit Shakespeare scenes, mostly because it’s SO awkward, halting, and human. And trust me, folks…you have NOT seen this scene until you’ve seen it between Margo Mac and Simon Bradshaw in drag.
The story itself is one of war, and valour, and all that jazz…King Henry is out to nab himself some France, and that’s all there is to it. There’re some great speeches in HV, and Margo does them bloody proud (they’re also the only places I was worried that the Fools might start losing the little ones in the audience, but even they seemed rapt with attention…then again, who can resist the St.Crispin’s day speech??). Director McBride and the gang makes use of every trick in the book to bring their tale to vigorously engaging life, including but not limited to a seemingly magic trunk (courtesy of John Doucet), puppets, a few action figures, and all the tennis balls you could ever hope for in live theatre. It was a pretty damn wonderful time out in the park, and the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m pretty much gonna have to go again. And the next time, I’m bringing my nieces. No matter who you have to bring, you should check it out too. It plays at parks all over well into August, so put your excuses on the shelf with mine, okay? Get your Fool on already. Peace, love and soul, Ottawa,