Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Slings and Arrows

Slings and Arrows is a Canadian television series about the theatre starring Paul Gross as Geoffrey Tennant, director at a thinly-disguised Stratford Festival called the New Burbage Festival. Slings and Arrows appear in Hamlet's famous To be or not to be monologue. Richard Burbage was Shakespeare's leading actor and Burbage's father had built the Globe Theatre in London.

Slings and Arrows was introduced to me by Jacob James a couple of years ago and I watched a couple of episodes and then my daughter recently brought the whole 3 season set back with her for the Holidays. Both Jacob and my daughter have acted so they loved the series. They had in fact played Romeo and Juliet together on stage at The Grand Theatre in Kingston, Ontario.

This show is brilliantly written by former Kids in the Hall member Mark McKinney, playwright and actress Susan Coyne, and comedian Bob Martin.(of Drowsy Chaperone fame)

The insights into theatre, both of the creative and the personal nature are bang on. Having directed three of the plays featured from Shakespeare's canon in this series, I can certainly empathize with the process described in the show. I wonder though, if the show, which is so theatre specific could be enjoyed by people who haven't been in theatre. 

But it rings loud and true about what it takes to put on a show and to survive in a world where Paul Gross' character Geoffrey Tennant says that the average Canadian professional actor makes 11,000 dollars a year. 

The last season is about Tennant's production of King Lear which is very moving and so true. William Hutt plays the aging thespian rescued from a senior's home to play Lear. Sarah Polley plays a dedicated young actor who plays Lear's daughter; Cordelia. Great acting from them both. In a parallel story, Don McKellar's outrageously affected Darren Nichols is directing a work-shopped Canadian musical called East Hastings, in the studio theatre. As the last season progresses, the King Lear is fraught with difficulties and that show is demoted to the studio space while the accessible success of the musical sees it take the bigger stage. I think it mirrors the real world. Musicals have risen at Stratford at the expense of Shakespeare's work. Hutt's poignant decline as the series edges to a close, is remarkable and fascinating. 

My friend Jacob who had brought the series to my attention in the first place had acted as Ariel to Hutt's Prospero at Stratford. Ironically, Prospero is the story of a man with magic powers giving them up as the sunset of his life approaches. Shakespeare as writer was also, at the writing of the play, watching the decline of his own powers. Hutt died not long after his performance in The Tempest.

It is refreshing to see a Canadian television show which is so well-acted and so well-written. 

**** stars

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