Equivocation at the Belfry Theatre April 22-May 25, 2014. A review.

Equivocation at the Belfry Theatre April 22-May 25, 2014. A review.

Equivocation by Bill Cain, currently at the Belfry Theatre (April 22-May 25, 2014) is intelligently written, masterfully interpreted and exquisitely staged. There is much to recommend in this fine drama featuring palace intrigue, a history lesson, and musings on the genesis of some of Shakespeare’s immortal works.   Whether you are a history buff, an aficionado of Shakespeare, an admirer of the intricacies of family dynamics, or simply want theatre to reflect the big questions of life—Equivocation fascinates with an in-depth and often philosophical examination.

Equivocation 396Anton Lipovetsky (Sharpe), Anousha Alamian (Nate), Rachel Cairns (Judith), Bob Frazer (Shagspeare), and Shawn MacDonald (Armin)
Photo by Emily Cooper

Using the device of plays within a play, Cain imagines the Gunpowder Plot as re-told by Shagspeare (Bob Frazer).  Set in the early 1600s, after the death of Queen Elizabeth and the ascension of King James of Scotland to the throne—a time of great religious turmoil where having the wrong religion could be cause for death—the Bard is offered a commission he cannot refuse.  Can he convince the cooperative of actors at the Globe Theatre to accept Sir Robert Cecil’s (Anousha Alamian) request.

There are plenty of inside jokes in the script—if you go to the theatre on a regular basis or know actors you’ll appreciate the barbs and pointed comments.  The humour is a way of diffusing a very real debate about the nature of performance and the symbiotic relationship between those on stage, and those in the audience.

Equivocation 359Gerry Mackay (Richard) and Bob Frazer (Shagspeare). Photo: Emily Cooper

Equivocation was written to have actors playing multiple roles—other than Frazer as Shagspeare and Rachel Cairns as Judith his daughter, the cast must negotiate the rapid transitions between roles as actors in The Chamberlain’s Men, and characters in the political drama. This is where excellence in stage craft shows for these transitions were expertly executed, leaving absolutely no doubt in the viewer’s mind as to the threads in the multiple story lines.

Anousha Alamian is dastardly as Sir Robert Cecil—particularly chilling is his soliloquy on legacy, wherein he traces his descendants and their accomplishments forward to the 19th century.

Rachel Cairns’ Judith provides sarcastic wit to the tragedy of the daughter ignored—her sharp insights into her father’s stories provoke chuckles.

In one particularly heart-wrenching scene, Shagspeare visits conspirator Thomas Wintour (Anton Lipovetsky) in his cell.  Contrasted with Lipovetsky’s double role as King James—all poof and coquetterie—the effect is chilling. Gerry Mackay plays Richard Burbage—the seasoned and central actor of the company—and Father Henry Garnet with heft. Every word is measured and considered—no action is wasted.  Shawn MacDonald drew many laughs as Lady Macbeth and stopped our breath as Sir Edward Coke, the chief prosecutor.

Central to it all, Bob Frazer brings to life and evokes a most conflicted Bard—how will he write himself out of his dilemma and put to rest his own ghosts?

Under Michael Shamata’s astute direction the cast navigates the difficulties of the text with great flair and prowess.

Lighting (Alan Brodie) is often dark and murky—perfectly capturing a time of flickering candles, and a metaphor for the troubled epoch. Composer Tobin Stokes majestic score surrounds the action with great sweeping and portentous musical lines. It’s easy to imagine the historical characters as being propelled in spite of themselves. Completing this study in the Jacobean era were the stark and representative set design by Kevin McAllister and costumes by Nancy Bryant.

Equivocation provokes questions about moral dilemmas, and our own complicity—it’s a conversation many people will be having long after the play ends.

Equivocation is a co-production with Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach, and following its run in Victoria, the show will transfer there and run from July 2 – September 19. This will be Bard on the Beach’s first ever co-production.

Palace intrigue and backstage comedy converge to create this entertaining ode to art, politics, and the perils of negotiating both! It’s a dangerous time for Catholics when King James’ henchman Sir Robert Cecil charges William Shagspeare (yes, him) with writing the “true history” of Guy Fawkes and the thwarted Gunpowder Plot. The famous playwright attempts to discover where the fiction stops and where the facts lead – without losing his head in the process!

premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009 and subsequently transferred to Seattle. The play has been produced throughout the US.

by Bill Cain, directed by Michael Shamata, a co-production with Bard on the Beach
Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone Avenue

Ticket Information and Performance Schedule
Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8 pm
Wednesday Matinees (April 30 & May 7) at 1 pm
Saturday Matinees at 4 pm
Sunday Matinees at 2 pm

Single tickets for the show range from $25 to $40 (plus GST) and can be booked by calling 250-385-6815, or online at www.belfry.bc.ca. Students discounts are available.

Equivocation contains some graphic and violent content.

Anousha Alamian 
Rachel Cairns
Bob Frazer
Anton Lipovetsky
Shawn MacDonald
Gerry Mackay

Director Michael Shamata
Set Designer Kevin McAllister
Costume Designer Nancy Bryant
Lighting Designer Alan Brodie
Composer & Sound Designer Tobin Stokes
Stage Manager Jennifer Swan
Assistant Stage Manager Ben Cheung

Engaging Audiences
Prior to and throughout the run of Equivocation, the Belfry is producing a number of audience engagement events designed to enhance and extend the experience of the play.

B4Play – Saturday, April 19 at 11 am
CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie will host a live talk show featuring artists from Equivocation and some very special community guests. This free event is at the Belfry Theatre.

Afterplay (April 29 – May 3 / May 13 – 17)
Following selected performances of Equivocation, we’ll host Afterplay – a facilitated discussion where patrons can share their thoughts with fellow audience members. It’s a chance to “debrief” after the show and hear how other audience members experienced the play.

Library Events
In collaboration with the Greater Victoria Public Library we’ll be hosting Belfry at the Library where we delve into the themes of the show and give people a behind the scenes look at the making of Equivocation.

We’ll be at the Bruce Hutchinson Branch (4636 Elk Lake Drive, Saanich Commonwealth Place) on Friday, May 2 from 10:30 am to 11:15 am and at the Central Branch (735 Broughton Street) Friday, May 16 from 10:30 am to 11:15 am.

ASL PerformanceMay 11 at 2pm
An American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted performance for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Certified interpreters, standing to the left side of the stage, interpret the script and language used by the actors at the same time it is being performed.

VocalEye PerformanceMay 18 at 2 pm
Audio describers provide descriptions of the visual elements of the show, allowing people with low vision to enjoy the theatrical experience without missing any of the details. Following the performance there is a touch tour of the set.

Disclaimer:  I received complimentary tickets to attend Equivocation. As always, I retain complete editorial control over all the content published on this website.

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