There’s a thread of redemption running through the Shaw festival shows this season, and it is woven tapestry thick through Enchanted April.
If you don’t know this story of British women abroad without their husbands in post WWI Italy you are in for a treat – if you like sunshine and wysteria, that is, and everyone does. Some of us just don’t know it yet.
Lotty Wilmot and Rose Arnott are deep in the stultifying depths of marriage troubles and a cold and rainy London winter when they each catch hold of an ad in the London Times for a holiday rental on the sunny coast of Italia in a villa called San Salvatore (a contender, surely, for the title of best place that doesn’t really exist – Hogwarts for adults).
They enlist the help of a young aristocrat escaping from herself, and a formidable society dowager, to share expenses: Lady Caroline, and Mrs. Graves respectively. No one leaves San Salvatore untransformed.
Festival Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell clearly demonstrates that, at it’s best, a theatre is an enchanted and transformative place. A great deal depends on what an individual audience member brings in with them, of course, but every one of these characters brings a wound to be healed by the historic stones, wildflower fields and seawater swimming to be had at this house called Salvation.
The house in this case is a character that has to carry the show, and William Schmuck’s San Salvatore set is as handsome, inviting, and warm a place as anyone with Tuscan dreams could wish for, taking the light of dawn, candlelight, moonlight and the heat of high noon provided by Kevin Lamotte’s wonderful lighting design with equal elegance and grace.
As a performance, Matthew Barber’s adaptation of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel (her sixteenth!) rightly places the emphasis on the lovely Lotty Milton; a beautifully flakey and heartfelt heroine, and Moya O’Connell carries this show with such enthusiasm and delight it’s hard to conceive the same woman played Hedda Gabler last season.
Tara Rosling plays Rose Arnott’s transition from a hard hollow grief with her usual knack for powerful, complicated women, and Donna Belleville decants her Mrs. Graves like a finely aged brandy through the course of the play: warming and sweetening to a rosy glow.
Of Marla McLean’s Lady Caroline, I can only say that it’s been too long since I’ve seen an actor enter and own a theatre in so short a time. She out Polly–Walkers Polly Walker’s Lady Caroline from the 1992 film, and that is saying something! Miley Cyrus could take some notes here on the less–is–more of sensuality.
Speaking only a single word of English, Sherry Flett inhabits the feminine passions of Italian peasantry every bit as powerfully as McLean does those of British aristocracy.
Those who have seen the ‘92 film adaptation will find just enough familiar here, and just enough new. We certainly see more of Jeff Meadow’s Mellersh Wilton than Merchant and Ivory generally showed of their leading men! Though it could be considered an homage to the pond scene in Room with A View, perhaps. Why is female nudity dangerous and male nudity funny? ...not a question for Yahoo!Answers, that...
The rest of the men do fine work as well; Patrick Galligan, of Warhorse fame, inhabits the loneliness and temptation of Florian Ayres/Fred Arnott with charm and compassion, and Kevin McGarry makes a fine English gentleman as host and veteran Antony Wilding.
However fine the work men do here, however much they contribute of their physical and intellectual selves, this is a woman’s story. Female novelist, female director, female leads… This show is a fantastic argument for letting sensible and talented women run the world. V
Until Oct. 26
@ Festival Theatre,
10 Queen’s Parade