As another Canadian winter approaches, do you dream of basking in the sunshine and wisteria of a tranquil, isolated villa on the Italian coast? If so, Village Theatre Waterdown holds the perfect cure for your pre-winter blues. Their delayed production of Matthew Barber’s stage adaptation of “Enchanted April” (2000) based on Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel has finally arrived and the timing couldn’t be better.
Some may have fond memories of the 1991 film version, although that movie script was adapted from von Arnim’s novel by Peter Barnes. The story, however, remains the same. Said story, as distilled from the Village Theatre programme: “Two London housewives recruit two very different English women to share the experience of an enchanted Mediterranean holiday”.
But don’t assume that this century old tale is nothing more than a rehash of the “buttoned-up Brits in Italy” trope. For it is more than that. Woven into the script is a tale of transformation; a 20th century fairy tale recounting the self liberation of four captive ladies.
We first meet the two central characters, Lottie and Rose on a drizzly London afternoon. Both are trapped in unhappy marriages, respectively to Mellersh and Frederick. Under the aegis of the indefatigable Lottie, they recruit Lady Caroline, a dazzling flapper and Mrs. Graves, a dour Victorian, to forsake the woes of drizzly London and accompany them on a month-long sojourn to a wisteria shaded villa near sunny Portofino. The holiday curriculum: to see if they will be “allowed to see, breathe, and feel” a heretofore unknown joy. Will this dream vacation alter their fates, reader? I leave the particulars for you to discover for yourself.
This production is packed with positives almost too numerous to name. Set, costume and hair/wig design, sound, props and lighting are all top notch and recreate the 1920’s superbly down to the smallest detail. The production crew deserve a curtain call of their own.
Director Al French also achieves wonders of stage blocking and smooth flow that can pave the way to naturalism for the players. If they are prepared. There was a slight sense, particularly in Act I that some performers were going up on their lines, or allowing the pace to lag. But this is merely a quibble in the long run, for as the evening unfolded, most found their rhythm, and much humour, pathos and beauty were on display.
Elaine Hale shines as Lottie. Whether conveying the character’s manic hummingbird intensity, or breathing into her an expansive bright energy, Hale has all the requisite skills at her command. She imbues her with a peace and warmth that is so palpable, it flows across the footlights seemingly effortlessly.
Deb Dagenais has the challenge of playing the more uptight Rose and chooses to underplay in the early scenes, but comes into her own as the piece progresses. Particularly in those moments when she connects with, and lets the audience glimpse Rose’s inner turmoil or recalcitrant surrender to bliss.
Christine Marchetti brings disillusioned socialite Lady Caroline to life vividly, unselfconsciously and with a light touch. It’s a layered performance in which she is able to achieve poignant depth even in silent moments, through nuanced glances and eloquent body language. And Maueen Ali is well cast as the aloof and condescending widow, Mrs. Graves. But she can also be called upon to endow the role with the right warmth and twinkle in the eye as needed. That she can manage this duality in a way that feels innate is no small feat.
Jay Douglas as Mellersh and Kevin Griffiths as Frederick are physically perfect casting for their roles. And both endow their characters with a manner as fitting to the period as their clipped moustaches and clipped delivery.
Clayton Gray as Antony, the solitary artist and owner of the villa feels at times a little too contemporary for the setting. Despite this, he gradually succeeds in conveying the more melodic and seductive persona that Antony must possess. And Rose Pye as the redoubtable Costanza, the villa’s maid of all work, is actually this production’s mistress of physical comedy. And although her dialogue is in Italian rather than English, she lands every single joke to grand effect and with great aplomb. The audience eats them up and begs for more. It’s a glorious achievement for this gifted comedienne.
Don’t miss your opportunity to be transported and transformed by this magical production.
by Matthew Barber
adapted from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim
Village Theatre Waterdown
Nov 3, 4, 5 @ 8:00 pm
Nov 5, 6 @ 2:00 pm