Vol. 11 No. 1 (Spring 1990)


Richard Paul Knowles

The first so-called 'Young Company' at the Stratford Festival was founded in 1975 by the incoming Artistic Director, Robin Phillips. This essay describes the brief history of that loosely-defined company and analyses their productions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Comedy of Errors in 1975 and of Hamlet and The Tempest in 1976, the Festival's first productions of Shakespeare at the Avon Theatre.

La première «Jeune Compagnie» ainsi appelée à Stratford fut fondée en 1975 par le nouveau Directeur artistique du Festival, Robin Phillips. Cet article esquisse la brève histoire de cette compagnie au mandat très souple, tout en analysant ses premières productions shakespeariennes à l'Avon Theatre, soit The Two Gentlemen of Verona et The Comedy of Errors en 1975, et en 1976 Hamlet et The Tempest.

Even before the opening of his first season as artistic director at the Stratford Festival, the thirty-two year old Robin Phillips raised eyebrows and served notice that a new era had begun at one of Canada's most revered cultural institutions. Beginning in February 1975, four months before the official opening of Phillips' first season, his newly established 'Young Company' toured exuberant, athletic and high-spirited productions of two plays of Shakespeare's youth, The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona throughout western Canada and on to Ottawa and Montreal before returning to Stratford for a full three weeks of preview performances for young audiences. The company, the first Young Company at Stratford,1 was founded by Phillips to provide training in Shakespeare for young actors, and it featured an exciting mixture of energetic performers from an eclectic theatrical background. The productions were not only lively and acrobatic -they were co-directed by David Toguri, who is best known as a choreographer - but decidedly irreverent, with actors doing handstands and cartwheels, playing catch, strumming guitars, daubing one another with suntan oil, and provoking incredulous comments from reviewers: 'This is Shakespeare at Stratford?'2

Indeed it was, and at the newly renovated Avon theatre, too, which had served as the Festival's second stage since 1956 but had never before been used to stage Shakespeare. Phillips and his head of design, Daphne Dare, had renovated the Avon's proscenium stage in the off-season to make it more flexible, adding a cyclorama, scaffold towers in the wings, and detachable black panels for the stage floor and sides. The auditorium was also given a face lift, with the addition of mirrored wall panels, a central chandelier and a theatrical black and gold décor. As Berners W. Jackson commented, 'the interior is an effortless blending of the classical with the modem, and in that way it is like Mr. Phillips himself, and his productions.'3 This new setting for Shakespeare was introduced, together with Phillips' first production at the Festival, by what Herbert Whittaker called a 'pretty bit of symbolism' to mark the change: 'Tanja Moiseiwitsch's elegant cartouche which dignified the proscenium of the Avon theatre hangs in suspension until the play opens, then rises and vanishes out of sight,'4 revealing an art-deco setting for The Two Gentlemen of Verona that suggested the Italian Riviera.

Indeed most of the commentary excited by the two opening Young Company productions concerned itself with the settings. Two Gentlemen, designed by Molly Harris Campbell but essentially a remounting of Phillips' controversial 1970 production for the Royal Shakespeare company, featured a pool-side setting, with Vogue magazines, beachballs, sunglasses and bathing suits, and a forest that consisted of a batten of ropes and mottled lighting. The Comedy of Errors, set by designer Jeffrey Sisco in a wild Canadian west, featured derbies and spats for the Antipholi, vests, cowboy hats and bandannas for the Dromios, and a huge conestoga wagon stage centre, which functioned as a tiring house, a palace, a private home and a priory, and out of which emerged Emilia in a nun's habit and work boots, wielding a shotgun, in the last act. There were occasional cries of outrage at all this, but on the whole the response from critics and audiences alike was favourable.

But the main event was the Young Company itself. Phillips selected a group of thirty young actors in whom he sensed a readiness to extend themselves, with the word 'young' referring 'not so much to chronological age as to attitude or viewpoint,'5 as Phillips said in the 'Outline of Future Plans' he presented to the Festival's Board of Governors in March 1974. Assembled early in the winter, the group spent a long rehearsal period that began with three weeks of gymnastics, physical exercises, voice training and theatre games, welding a company together and working purely in terms of self-discovery, without explicit reference to the texts. As Charles Pope describes it,

From the start Phillips demanded a daily routine of physical exercise, and group sensitivity techniques designed to break down inhibitions. On the first day of rehearsals he sat everyone in a circle, then told them to begin passionately kissing whomever sat to their right.6

The improvisational work and game-playing eventually became a frame of reference for the company's work on the texts of the two plays, establishing what would become Phillips' way of working with Shakespeare, what Nicholas Pennell calls 'coming at the text from eighty-four different angles,'7 establishing what reviewers recognized as a 'beautifully unified company' with a genuine 'repertory feeling,'8 and insisting on serious consideration of the text, clarity of speech and genuinely felt reactions. Phillips' use of game-playing was an important aspect not only of the establishment of a company spirit, but also of the contacting of and communicating with audiences. Phillips established in 1975, in the first two Young Company productions, the seeds of what was to become a flexible and sophisticated way of involving the audience actively in theatre as recreation rather than as demonstration. He tried to use these productions to involve audiences in the actors' re-creation of the text and re-creation of community, and he signalled this new approach at this stage in the most elementary of ways:

One of the actors [Ian Wallace, now known as 'Nion'] was first seen by the theatre-goers in the lobby as they waited in line with their tickets. He was dressed in overalls and sunhat and carried a butterfly net ... His invitations to play were continued a few minutes later in the theatre when obliging members of the audience played catch with him, tossing a soft sealskin ball, in response to a musical whistle. Just before curtain time the whole game reached a climax when, from the stage, he called on balcony members of the audience to try to knock over a toy elephant that was one of his props ... And appreciative applause rang out when somebody did, indeed, hit the elephant. So all were in the right mood to share in the carefree fun of The Comedy of Errors.9

While this at first seems trivial, and even gimmicky, it is in fact well suited to the play and the production, perfectly matched to the company's rehearsal techniques, and effective in establishing a spirit of participation in the audience. It became clear later in the season and in following years, moreover, that Phillips believes in finding ways of involving the audience in the process of tragic as well as comic re-creation, indeed in the theatrical production of all kinds of texts.

For the time being the productions, like the rehearsal exercises, were well-chosen attempts to break the ice and to establish Phillips' and the Young Company's new approach to Shakespeare at Stratford. As reviewer Martin Knelman remarked, 'Phillips and . . . Toguri have gone back to the plays of Shakespeare's own youth to find a new connection with the impulses of contemporary young performers and contemporary young audiences,' and he comments on the 'intoxicating exuberance' of productions with 'the buoyant spirit of an ideal college review.'10 The two opening plays performed by the new Young Company were well chosen too, in that both dealt, in their different ways, with people finding themselves. The Comedy of Errors, set in the new Canadian west of the 1890s and opening its tour of western Canada in Winnipeg, concerned itself with problems of identity, and even the Canadian obsession with national identity received some lighthearted attention. It was no accident that Barry MacGregor's Antipholus of Ephesus suggested to one reviewer 'the epitome of an English remittance man among the cowpokes of Alberta or Saskatchewan';11 or that Dr. Pinch, a disreputable wild-west witch doctor, flew a battered and bedraggled Union Jack above his cart. More prominent, amidst the farce and slapstick that the play invites, however, were the touches of dislocation, bewilderment and loss that deepened the perspective of the play and suggested, as the best farce must, genuine horror at the prospect of loss of self. These strands were drawn together and emphasised by a framing choral song about identity, the words of which were widely rumoured to have been written by Phillips himself but which, according to then Festival archivist Dan Ladell, were by the British songwriters Caryl Brahms and Ned Sharon:

Together as we stand
They fall in place, the image and the face ...
So in the end can all mankind
Achieve its own identity
Without you there is no me, without you
there's no me
And so we find (and so we find)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of only two productions of Shakespeare that Phillips has mounted in a post-1950 setting,13 was even more youthful, contemporary, and appropriate for the first season of the Young Company, and it is not surprising that the production, 'full of the juice of youth,'14 was popular with student audiences, who consistently gave it standing ovations. Phillips explains that the modern setting 'had to do with the oddity of the relationships in the play; I found that I was seeing modem people in my mind as I read it.' He saw the play as 'explicitly about four young people who are very immature, who are imperfectly aware of their identities,'15 and he placed the emphasis, as reviewer Douglas Watt remarked, 'on buoyant privileged youth rather than decadence.'16 The interpretation was clarified through the ironic commentaries of an older than usual Launce, played sardonically by Eric Donkin.

The subject was clearly adolescent love and friendship, and the characters, even when in love, were primarily in love with their own happy selves. Valentine, skilled at forward rolls and athletic workouts with beachballs and boxing gloves, was played by Stephen Russell as open, sincere and imperceptive. Nicholas Pennell's Proteus, on the other hand, was presented as 'a young man not devious by nature but grasping at duplicity as the only weapon that might serve him against such as Valentine in his pursuit of Silvia.' He was saved, as Berners Jackson said, 'from that immemorial condition in which a young man thinks he wants what he can't have and doesn't know that he wants what he can have,' by Mia Anderson's 'vulnerable, waif-like' Julia.17

Jackie Burroughs' Silvia was in many ways the highlight of the production, and again the characterization was of a modern young woman, spoiled, coquettish and highly strung. Berners Jackson's account of her performance is worth quoting at length:

Jackie Burroughs made her a capricious daughter of wealth who could oblige Proteus with a picture of herself by simply tearing it out of a glossy magazine, and who had been brought up in the belief that whatever she did would be commended. Beneath the softness of her filmy gown you suspected the wiry body that brought her on stage in a swirling, precarious cartwheel; behind the fluttery affectations of her manner you were aware of the quick, intuitive mind of the accomplished flirt. This was a Silvia designed to unsettle the rugged Valentine, fascinate the impressionable Proteus into forgetting his Julia, focus the attentions of the opportunist Thurio, and shamelessly victimize that aged cavalier, Sir Eglamour. A surprising interpretation, perhaps, but it worked so effectively in this production that you found yourself thinking of Silvia as the sort of girl who appropriated for herself the captain of the high school football team, or who called the Duke, her father, 'daddy' when she wanted a new sports car. Miss Burroughs brought it off very cleverly. The tone of her voice - high, self-approving, with a hint of petulance in it - made the lines work for her without altering them or appearing to fight their meaning. In her final interchange with Proteus, for instance, she managed to be provocative and challenging, and then visibly excited by his advances, rather than resolute and admonitory and, finally, frightened. You felt she was enjoying herself, and that the touch of chagrin in her silence following Valentine's intervention was as much the result of being prevented from dealing with Proteus in her own way as of finding herself, for once, not the centre of attention.18

The true test of any Two Gentlemen, however, is the exchange between Valentine and Proteus in the final scene, and the change in Proteus from villain to repentant friend. Here Phillips' approach justified itself most fully. Jackson noted that Proteus 'came to contrition at the end in the same way that Valentine abandoned his anger, almost with relief . . . Their recognition of a peril passed, and the gratitude of each to the other that friendship had survived made the scene of their reconciliation more believable than its event suggests it is likely to be.'19 But it was believable partly because Phillips recognized that the repentance was no more 'sincere' or final than the earlier plotting had been. Pennell comments that 'it is impossible, at eighteen, to be as changeable as that, to say "I see what I've done and I'm dreadfully sorry." The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a play very much about adolescence and the need to arrive at some humour about oneself.'20 Phillips agrees, noting that Proteus is 'an unformed person, a person who doesn't yet know himself. He hasn't developed his own muscles; it isn't just an author who hasn't supplied them for him, it's a boy who hasn't yet discovered about the world about him, about anybody else ... And to come to the end of the play with any resolution is a mistake. The play does not resolve, they have not found maturity by the end.'21 In the production's final scene, then, as Roberta Plutzik saw it, 'the lights dim to two spots. Lovers and friends reverse: Young love is a changeable thing.'2

The production was on the whole favourably reviewed, reviewers noting both its freshness and its clarity:

This was not 'modernized Shakespeare' in the usual sense of that phrase. The play was not made over to accommodate the fashions and furnishings of today; instead these things were put to the service of the play. This faithful adherence to the text in a modern setting had the effect of liberating Shakespeare from the bondage to time imposed by period costume and an attempt at period airs and manners, without subjecting his work to the kind of adjustments and ingenious inventions that are too often perpetrated in a misdirected search for relevance. We talk of the timelessness of Shakespeare. I have never been more aware of it than I was while watching this production of a comparatively slight play from his early years. The authentic voice was there, but it seemed to be speaking in our time, rather than to our time from across four centuries.23

Phillips' first two productions with the Young Company, then, revealed a good deal about the direction he would take in producing Shakespeare at Stratford. His approach to his audience as participants, his attempts to draw on Canadian experience, his use of period settings, and his use of 'Canadian English' anticipate much that was characteristic of his later work at the Festival, and his 'company' approach, together with the rehearsal methods that such an approach entails, was to remain central to his work at Stratford and beyond.

The success of the Young Company's first year - youthful, fresh and surprising - left commentators wondering what the group would do for an encore, in what direction Phillips planned to take the company. In 1976, while rehearsing for that season's Young Company productions of Hamlet and The Tempest, Phillips provided an answer and its rationale. Explaining his use of a modern dress approach to the first season's productions he said:

I hope what they've discovered about themselves and how to stand on a stage and communicate directly with audiences they will now be able to take into a Renaissance period production, but still remain in contact with their modern audience. They won't suddenly assume a stance or a mask-type attitude to their character, but say "I still have blood, skin, pores - I can sweat, I can bleed, I can suffer in the same way as the people that I am sharing with."24

'At first many of the Young Company needed those jazzy costumes for The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona,' he said in the following year. 'But after a year together I didn't want them leaning on that crutch forever. That's why . . . we did a conventional Hamlet for their second season.'25

Designs for Hamlet and The Tempest contrasted with those for the previous year's Young Company not only in their conventional period settings but in their simplicity and their unobtrusive imitation of the Festival stage. For her basic set for the Avon Theatre in 1976 Daphne Dare simply floated a near-replica of the Festival stage in the Avon's black box, not filling the space but suggesting in its sparseness and isolation something of the quality of mystery and separateness that Denmark and Prospero's island share (while at the same time answering the exigencies of the productions' transfer to the main house, late in the season). While many reviewers commented to the effect that 'Prospero's island has never seemed so ethereal or other-worldly,'26 the basic set was also described as 'a model of how to mount Shakespeare with a minimum of clutter and intrusion.'27

The Tempest was staged with particular and almost ritualistic simplicity, employing only the downstage thrust and backing this by a large, glowing disk that progressed from left to right on an ascendant curve against an abstract backcloth and changed colour to suggest the sun or moon at different times of the day or night. Hamlet made use of a step unit and a balcony, but for the most part restricted the actors to the downstage area:

When we were first introduced to the members of the Danish Court, they were arranged in a shallow, curving line a few feet beyond the lip of the stage and stretching from wing to wing. Throughout the production this was approximately the playing area, the action shifting laterally along a line just below the proscenium arch. Except for articles of furniture that were brought on when needed, the stage was bare, its upper area a looming background for the lighted figures at front. The result was a two-dimensional picture of remarkable clarity and simplicity which made the physical presence of the actors powerfully felt, and thus seemed to lend added weight and immediacy to what they had to say.28

Costumes and props for the productions were simple but evocative, particularly so in their use of colour. In The Tempest, designed by John Ferguson, the upstage disk glowed with colours that changed from red to blue to silver-grey to mark the play's changing moods, to help establish the strange unreality of the island, and to underline Prospero's almost obsessive concern with time. The groupings of characters were signalled by the colours of their costumes, but the stage was in basic black and white at the outset: 'it was as if Prospero's island had been photographed in black and white, with a tinted sun, and then the beginnings of color as the human figures took their places there.'29 The costumes of the courtiers were in browns and rusts of velvet, suede, lace, kid and leather; at the end, when Prospero entered not as a great magician but as Duke of Milan, he wore the same colours to establish his return to the ranks of common humanity.

Hamlet, too, was predominantly black and white, punctuated by flashes of colour made startling by their infrequency. Patrick Pacheco, reviewing the production in After Dark magazine, noted that

Gil Wechsler's lighting created a nightmarish effect, plunging the characters into a shadowy world that became murkier as the play built to its horrifying climax. The crisp, neat folds of the black costumes and the starched Elizabethan white ruffs conveyed the sense of a perfectly ordered universe, a puritanical structure that covered up the most hideous crimes behind an austere facade.30

Maurice Yacowar, the film critic for the St. Catharines Standard, subjected the production to an extended filmic analysis; he pointed out that against this sombre world of black and white, when a dash of colour does occur it is spectacular.31 In the opening scene, for example, a green globe downstage left drew the eye, and its effect of pulling the spectator out of Hamlet's melancholy perspective was repeated and echoed late in the play when the gravedigger's boy crunched a shining Granny Smith apple. Similarly the bright reds and golds of the players' costumes burst with new life onto a sterile promontory indeed, and when the spring-like, flowered gown of Ophelia's early appearances gave way to the tragedy's pervasive blacks in her mad scenes, the effect was of a deepening and inevitable doom.

Certain scenes and sequences in both productions stood out for their visual and physical effects, and among the most startling were these scenes of Ophelia's madness. Marti Maraden's Ophelia entered with her arms strapped to a gilded, yoke-like apparatus, giving the impression of a dangerous lunacy very far removed from the daintily pathetic madness common in productions of the play. The device not only made the audience and the actors uncomfortably aware of the potentially dangerous quality of her insanity, it also, and more importantly, shocked us into listening to the words that Shakespeare wrote for her. There was no possibility, as there often is in productions of Hamlet, of overlooking the violence of Ophelia's sexual allusions in the Saint Valentine's Day song, or the significance of her opening line to Gertrude, which Phillips called 'the most important thing she says in the scene':32 'How should I your true love know / From another one?' Well might Gertrude have been concerned with 'what imports this song,' and her shock of recognition was clearly indicated by her justifiable fear of Ophelia.

The ghost of Hamlet's father was also effectively and simply presented. Placed upstage amidst the smoke and mist, he was at once portentously huge and pitiably human, sculpted out of the darkness by chiaroscuro highlights on his face and armour. Set against this insubstantial pageant, the swirling murkiness of which defined the hero's state of mind, was a puny Hamlet, the firm flesh of whose hands, outlined by starched white ruffs around the wrists, was sharply lit as he gestured in supplication to the shadows.

In The Tempest all the fury of the storm was represented simply but effectively by wild and violent flapping of a single canvas sail, and by struggling sailors, caught by lightning flashes in the darkness, clinging to ropes and crying out above the thunder. What Phillips did, very powerfully, was to stage the storm's effect rather than the storm itself.

The simplicity of this was carried further, but perhaps with less success, when in the masque of goddesses Phillips avoided the expected visual extravagance. All three goddesses were played by one actress who spoke the words of the song with her back to the audience as she faced a large projected image of herself. Here and elsewhere Phillips resisted the music and the masque-like qualities of the play, feeling that these restricted the imaginative freedom of the audience, feeding it concrete images rather than demanding engagement on an active, creative level: 'I have a terrible feeling that it isn't quite the play [Shakespeare] wanted to write,' Phillips told Ralph Berry. 'I think he gets caught up with the fashion of his own time, and gets trapped in the middle of perhaps his most remarkable freedom with Elizabethan masque-work, at just the moment when he appears about to break beyond the bounds of even his genius.'33 Phillips tried, then, to avoid the distancing effect of music and of spectacle, and while the isle indeed was 'full of noises,' they were noises that the audience could not hear. There are times in The Tempest where this simply did not work - the play's music must work upon the audience's senses as well as those of the characters - but elsewhere it was quite effective. In the opening scene, for example, Prospero's repeated 'dost thou hear?' was not directed at Miranda's inattention, but designed to make her listen to some noise that was inaudible to the audience. Both actors paused to listen, and the tense and breathless hush that this created filled the scene of exposition with a dramatic sense of impending crisis, and of magic.

Phillips also replaced much of the play's ubiquitous music and spectacle with black-clad spirits, invisible to all but Ariel and Prospero, sexless, and ever-present, who dressed the stage, effected much of the play's magic, and lurked always at the edges of our consciousness. Opinions were divided as to the value of the device, but that it was at least partially successful in carrying out the function that the music and spectacle must have served in Shakespeare's day, without drawing undue attention to itself, is attested to by a perceptive commentary by Eric Salmon:

In many productions of the play the presence of magic and enchantment does not really become obvious until Prospero conjures up the Masque of Ceres and Juno, by which time these spirits tend to appear to us either as an unwanted intrusion or as a piece of theatrical bombast. By the simple device of starting with a group of unaccounted-for and unaccountable spirits on stage before ever we seen [sic] the more mundane human figures, Robin Phillips gives to his island a dimension of metaphysical reality which is there in the text but usually absent from stage productions. And this spirit of strangeness stays with us throughout, permeating the whole play. The chorus of mysterious presences comes and goes with the character, ebbing and flowing on the edges of the action like an uneasy tide drawn by strange moons. The movements of this chorus are simple, unaffected, undistracting, minimal; but their joint presence is overpowering in its force. This silent chorus listens intently to the action of the play and responds subtly but significantly. Its authority, one feels, has in it something of ruthlessness, something of savagery and is yet in its ultimate gesture benevolent, compassionate and just. In the atmosphere of alert strangeness thus generated from the start of the play it seems perfectly natural that the men from the ordinary, political world of Milan and Naples should hear strange sounds and music in the air of this island and that even the gross and lumpish Caliban, though he cannot interpret it, can nevertheless hear it. So often, in productions of this play, the music of those thousand twangling instruments is all too incidental, the main action being located elsewhere. In Robin Phillips' production this music of the spheres is integral to the play's main purpose and is allowed, in a magic island, to penetrate our muddy vesture of decay.34

Associated with these spirits was Nicholas Pennell's Ariel, a strange, white-clad figure who remained onstage perfectly still much of the time but moved, when he did, in slow motion and with his legs only, lifting his knees high in the air and letting his feet 'settle' when he stopped, with the slight bounce of a deep-sea diver or spacewalker. Berners Jackson describes the effect:

When he moved it was as if a portion of the air had taken form and motion. Mr. Pennell played the part with remarkable physical control. He never varied his deliberate gait, yet, in his numerous comings and goings on Prospero's business, he was always at the right place at the right time, activated, one felt, not by any voluntary physical exertion but by supernatural propulsion. And when he spoke the voice was bodiless; his words seemed not to be uttered but simply to emerge. It was possible to believe that he was invisible.35

Pennell had in fact arrived at his embodiment of Ariel by looking at films of the Apollo moon landing; by working with the company's ballet-oriented movement coach; and by reading C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet in which angelic 'Eldil' appear with outlines but no substance, and in which Lewis discusses how travel faster than the speed of light would seem to be unnaturally slow. 'From all this I got his slow movement and permanent presence,' Pennell says; 'and because of the slowness and stillness, I got a very odd impression of what was going on around me - so though I was part of it, saw it etcetera - I could be strangely unaware of it, innocent of it.' The character was convincingly of another element, and was an excellent example of the Young Company's physical training being put to good use in their second season, if to more delicate effect than in 1975.

It is significant, too, that in spite of Phillips' having been directly involved in a similar treatment of Ariel when he was Assistant Director of John Barton's 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company production, he allowed the actor to discover a way of playing the part for himself, and to take personal responsibility for the role. I have suggested that in 1975 Phillips purposely selected plays by the young Shakespeare dealing with adolescent love and friendship, and treated them with youthful exuberance in his Young Company's first season; in 1976 he seems to have chosen plays that deal with freedom, responsibility, and the maturation process, for a company that itself was changing (thirteen members of the 1975 company did not return in 1976, when there were ten new members) and growing up. The rehearsal process in this second season was much the same as in the first, except that with the denser texts of Hamlet and The Tempest there was less time for pure games or self-discovery, as actors focused earlier and more directly on the texts.

Phillips' direction of the actors in 1976, however, often involved forcing them to find their own ways through the text, refusing them their 'actorly' solutions and making them think; and a similar approach applied to audiences. Pennell describes The Tempest as 'a wonderful production for actors, because we have to create everything,' and as one that also asked for an imaginative leap from audiences, involving them actively as co-creators rather than as passive spectators and listeners. The production was faithful to the text and refused to limit it unduly; Phillips presented the play not as the result but as the record of the company's explorations and one that led the audience through an analogous exploratory process.

In Hamlet the exploratory approach was taken even further. Phillips cast in the title role two very different actors to play the part on alternating nights; each Hamlet was associated with his own Gertrude, but the rest of the cast, together with the settings and the lightly cut text, remained unchanged. Like the use of simple settings, Phillips' use of alternating Hamlets pushed the actors' interactions to the fore, as they had to listen and respond to something different every night. The programme notes for the production stressed the mysteries of Hamlet, pointing out their lack of resolution in the text. Indeed, the importance of refusing to resolve those mysteries for audiences was perceptively pinpointed by the Literary Manager of the Festival, Urjo Kareda, who wrote in the programme that 'the attempt to resolve the play becomes part of the process of perceiving it.'

Both Hamlets, Nicholas Pennell and Richard Monette, talk of being pushed to discover the role for themselves. 'The goal of this production,' as Martin Knelman remarked, 'seems to be to make the text clear enough to keep all approaches to the mystery open. That openness gives a kind of freedom to the two actors alternating in the role of Hamlet.'36 Phillips began by asking both actors together if they felt that Hamlet was a man of action; after both had answered affirmatively, they began completely separate rehearsals, with the exception of one occasion on which Monette and his Gertrude, Patricia Bentley-Fisher, sat in on a late rehearsal for the Pennell version. Phillips suggested to both of his Hamlets that they consider as the centre of the role exactly what the 'inmost part' of Gertrude was, the part that Hamlet in the closet scene had planned to show her had he not been interrupted by the ghost. Beyond this, acting exercises were restricted to rejection of artificial or externally-imposed interpretations, so much so that Pennell was tied to a chair for rehearsals of the great soliloquies, and Monette was left to do the 'too, too solid flesh' soliloquy 'uninterpreted,' allowing the speech itself and the actor's immediate response to shape the interpretation of each performance.

The Hamlets that Monette and Pennell found were very different. Robert Speaight once commented, in reviewing the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet on which Phillips worked as assistant director, that 'you can almost divide Hamlets into those who are in love with their father and those who are in love with their mother,'37 and the generalization applied exactly to the Phillips production: Pennell's was clearly a mother-centred reading of the role, while Monette's prince was dominated by the image of his father.

Monette portrayed Hamlet as an immature, idealistic and bewildered young man, one who saw himself as righteous, 'a just man in an unjust society,' according to the actor, and he was consequently highly energetic, alternating between passionate anger and a morose self-pity. He attacked the lines with great freshness, with what Phillips called 'that wonderful Canadian crunch' that was 'so cleansing.'

Not surprisingly, given the youthfulness of the character, Monette's Hamlet idealized the image of his dead father: 'I followed the idea of the father as a superego, and I discovered a lot,' he says. Among his discoveries were the innovative 'where's your father,' delivered to Ophelia in the nunnery scene as the natural consequence of his contemptuous contemplation of himself in comparison with the memory of his own father (Ill.i.121-31);38 the use of the ghost his father's words, as he had set them down in his tablet, for the 'matter' that Hamlet reads in his encounter with Polonius (II.ii); and the playing of the closet scene (III.iv) to suggest that his motivation was not sex disgust nor the betrayal of himself, but the betrayal of his father by what he saw as a weak-willed and impulsive Gertrude.

Nowhere was the contrast between Monette's Hamlet and that of Pennell more apparent than in this scene, where in Pennell's version a clearly Oedipal young Hamlet seemed, as one reviewer commented, 'more likely to rape [his mother] than to cause her any other injury.'39 In this version, Pat Galloway's frail and imperceptive Gertrude was central, as she watched her comfortable world crumbling around her. Pennell's Hamlet was moody, brooding, sexually ambivalent, and fascinated by his mother's sexuality. 'For me,' he told one student audience in a post-performance talk, 'his sexual hangups, particularly his relationship with his mother, are the most important and fascinating.'40 This reading of the part produced not only the electricity of the closet scene but a ripple of tension as well when he kissed his uncle-father on the lips on his departure for England, calling him 'mother': 'father and mother is man and wife, man and wife is one flesh - so, my mother' (IV.iii.51-2).

Pennell based his characterization, predictably, but with less damage than one might expect, on Ernest Jones's Freudian interpretation of the play.41 He now sees this as having been a mistake - 'what I tried to play was not my Hamlet' - which he feels limited his exploration of the role. He explains:

The Oedipal idea made sense to me, but it became the central support of my performance, and I couldn't later get free of it when other aspects of the role became clearer to me. But the positive thing about Ernest Jones was his supreme discovery that you kill Claudius when you kill Polonius, and it's Hamlet performing that act that frees him, and gives you the centre of the play, the crux. ... He's committed the act by which he can become king. This enabled me to get "how all occasions" right, so that far from being cut, as it often is, it becomes essential: it is Hamlet's problem, and the subtext to the play.

The last act was played by both Pennell and Monette with settled wills, with control and energy, and with an athleticism that again recalled that of the Young Company's first season - the duel was based on fifty hours of rehearsal and fourteen pages of script by fight coach Patrick Crean.

It was, however, clear in both these Hamlets that the company, like the hero, had matured through having struggled with the mysteries of a text beyond the pale of The Comedy of Errors or The Two Gentlemen of Verona. As in the earlier productions, Phillips made use of the youth of the company by casting younger than usual actors in pivotal roles, as when Michael Liscinskys' youthful Claudius seemed to provide direct sexual competition with Pennell's Hamlet for the favours of a Gertrude who, as one reviewer commented, 'prefers younger men.' 42 Gertrude's reunion with Claudius after her tempestuous closet scene in the Pennell version was highly charged, a near replay of the confrontation with Hamlet. In The Tempest, too, a young and inexperienced Sebastian played by Victor A. Young gave the role a touch of immature uncertainty that balanced interestingly the Ferdinand of Jack Wetherall, as both in different ways lived out the education of a prince. Even the older members of the company were cast in such a way as to provide a useful commentary on the maturation process, as when Phillips cast a Stratford veteran as Osric. 'I am tired,' said reviewer Berners Jackson, 'of mincing, callow Osrics, so I found the part as presented by Richard Curnock a considerable delight':

He was a faded, mannered gallant, a lesser Rosencrantz and Guildenstern preserved into middle age, still useful for incidental jobs about the court, such as refereeing a fencing march. The text refers to him twice as "young Osric." Mr. Curnock gave us the sort of man who never achieves maturity but only an increasingly decrepit youth, so that his acquaintances inadvertently, or with conscious irony, refer to him as "young."43

The maturation of the company was furthered, too, by bringing Stratford veterans into the ranks, most notably William Hutt. Hutt had said in 1975 that Phillips' formation of the Young Company was 'his most important and startling idea,'44 and it was not surprising to see him listed the next year as the co-director of both Hamlet and The Tempest, and as Prospero in the latter. According to Hutt, his credit as co-director was 'a generosity of Robin's not a fact of life,' but though he claims 'my contribution was negligible' as a director, his presence in the company alone was an important part of the training of the actors.

Hutt's Prospero was among the most successful of the many roles he has played at Stratford, and among the most personally exposed. We saw in him the weaknesses of Prospero, the strain of his responsibility, and the temptation to obtain revenge. Performed alongside Hamlet, it was never clearer that The Tempest is a play about revenge, and the points of contact between the two plays stood out with brilliant clarity. As Martin Knelman wrote,

It's intriguing to see The Tempest produced in tandem with Hamlet, because in a way The Tempest resolves the conflicts set up in Hamlet. Once more we have the problem of a usurper and his victim, but since the rightful Duke of Milan is not dead but merely in exile, it doesn't take a tragic course to resolve order.... The supernatural world intrudes in Hamlet in frightening terms with the appearance of the ghost, but in The Tempest the supernatural element is a magical, redemptive force.... The tragedy of Hamlet is a nightmare from which the enchantment of The Tempest awakens us.45

Hutt talks of Ariel's line urging Prospero's pity - 'mine would, sir, were I human' (V.i.20) - as the turning point in the play:

It penetrates Prospero's mind, strongly and deeply into Prospero's mind, and his attitude changes. "I've got to stop being a god, a vengeful god. I've got to accept people, including myself, which includes Ariel and Caliban, as they are." You can't use your imagination, or control your baser instincts, if it's tied to your will.

The inclusion of Ariel and Caliban as parts of Prospero, together with the links to Hamlet, were underscored by the casting of Monette and Pennell, the two Hamlets, as Caliban and Ariel respectively. Hutt, Pennell and Monette share similar vocal qualities, and on several occasions we heard what seemed to be Prospero's voice coming from the monster or the airy spirit, most notably during Caliban's curses and Ariel's denunciation, as a harpy, of the courtiers. Pennell and Monette, too, both comment on the ways in which their roles in these two productions fed into one another, Ariel's innocence informing Hamlet's sense of betrayal, and Caliban's primitive impulse to revenge enlarging Hamlet's more tortured progress toward his consummation. Finally, the casting of the same actor, Marti Maraden, as Miranda and Ophelia underlined more clearly than anything else the import of Prospero's averting of a Hamlet-style revenge.

Prospero's crisis, then, exemplified the several strands of Phillips' method with the company, with the audience, and with the themes of freedom and responsibility in the plays: as Hutt said, 'you can't use your imagination ... if it's tied to your will.'

At the end of the 1976 season Hamlet and The Tempest transferred to the main stage at the Festival theatre, and the move can be seen to symbolize the Young Company's assimilation into the total operation of the Festival, the completion of their 'education' and the partial fulfilment of Phillips' goal as stated in the Souvenir programme for the 1975 season: 'to develop a single Festival Acting Company ... that is equally at home on any of our stages ... rather than ... a separate group of actors for each theatre.' After 1976, in any case, Phillips' duties as the artistic director of the Festival and the director of an increasing number of productions on the Festival stage militated against his continuing to devote so high a percentage of his time to a Young Company. The company performed together only once again in Shakespeare, in the unsuccessful Romeo and Juliet of 1977, directed by David William and taken over in the last few weeks by Bernard Hopkins.

But the bases of Phillips' approach to training were clear, and would remain constant throughout his tenure as artistic director and his later stint as director of the Young Company in 1987-88: the maximum allotment of rehearsal time, to allow for the solidification of a company feeling and for self-exploration within the context of the group; the mixture of experienced actors with promising newcomers to the classics; careful attention to the exploration of Shakespeare's text; the use of design to help communicate Shakespeare to the 20th-century Canadian audience; the careful and creative use of repertory casting and complementary play selection; and the intention eventually to assimilate the Young Company into the larger acting company of the Festival.



Richard Paul Knowles

1 It is curious that although plans were laid for the Young Company in the winter of 1974 and presented to the Board of Governors in March of that year; and although at least one reviewer, HERBERT WHITTAKER in the Globe and Mail (14 Dec 1974) referred to the 'so called Young Company,' neither the Western tour nor the first two productions at Stratford were identified in the Festival's publicity as Young Company productions. Indeed the Souvenir programme for 1975 stresses the 'overall aim' of building a 'single Festival acting company.' By 1976, however, PHILLIPS described the Young Company in the Souvenir programme as 'going into its second year.' The author would like to thank the anonymous and extremely diligent readers for Theatre History in Canada/Histoire du théâtre au Canada for their helpful comments and suggestions
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2 MARION I DUKE The Listowel Banner 29 May 1975
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3 JACKSON 'Shakespeare at Stratford, Ontario, 1975,' Shakespeare Quarterly 27 #1 (1976) p 25
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4 WHITTAKER The Globe and Mail 14 June 1975
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5 Quoted in JOHN PETTIGREW and JAMIE PORTMAN Stratford: The First Thirty Years vol 2 (Toronto: Macmillan 1985) p 54
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6 POPE Scene Changes May/June 1976
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7 Interview with the author, 14 June 1984. All quotations from PENNELL, ROBIN PHILLIPS, WILLIAM HUTT and RICHARD MONETTE, unless otherwise acknowledged, are from interviews held between 1984 and 1986. For accounts of PHILLIPS' approach to Shakespeare's text and to rehearsal, see RICHARD PAUL KNOWLES 'Speaking the Verse: Robin Phillips Directs Shakespeare' The Elizabethan Theatre 12, ed C E McGee and Lynne Magnusson, forthcoming; and RICHARD PAUL KNOWLES 'Robin Phillips: Text and Context' Canadian Theatre Review 52 (Fall 1987) p 50-57
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8 DAVE BILLINGTON Southam News Services 16 June 1975
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9 'P M B' Bracebridge Herald-Gazette 7 Aug 1975
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10 KNELMAN Saturday Night Sept 1975
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11 JAMES W. HENDERSON The Saginaw News 19 June 1975. The Canadian Identity theme was explicitly mentioned, as far as I have been able to discover, by only one reviewer, ROBERTA PLUTZIK in the Buffalo Courier Express 13 June 1975
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12 Quoted from the prompt book in the Stratford Festival archives. A slightly different version is printed in the souvenir programme
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13 The other was of Romeo and Juliet, set in a 1950s American military academy. It was mounted in the first year of Phillips' 1987-88 tenure as director of the Young Company at the Third Stage
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14 JACKSON p 25
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15 PHILLIPS in RALPH BERRY On Directing Shakespeare: Interviews with Contemporary Directors (London: Croom Helm 1977) p 99
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16 WATT New York Daily News 13 June 1975
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17 JACKSON p 25-6
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18 Ibid p 26
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19 lbid
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20 Quoted by POPE
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21 PHILLIPS in BERRY p 98-9
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22 PLUTZIK Buffalo Courier Express 14 June 1975
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23 JACKSON p 25
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24 PHILLIPS in BERRY p 98-9
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25 PHILLIPS quoted in CHARLES POPE Scene Changes June-July 1977
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26 DAN ZEFF Waukegan Ill. News-Sun 27 July 1976
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27 MARTIN KNELMAN Saturday Night June 1976
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28 JACKSON 'Stratford Festival Canada' Shakespeare Quarterly 28 #2 (1977) p 198
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29 Ibid
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30 PACHECO After Dark (New York) July 1976
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31 YACOWAR St Catherines Standard 17 July 1976
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33 Ibid p 104
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34 SALMON 'The 1976 Season at Stratford, Ontario' Queen's Quarterly 84 #1 (Spring 1977) p 33-4
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35 JACKSON Shakespeare Quarterly 28 p 201
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36 KNELMAN Saturday Night June 1976
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37 SPEAIGHT 'Shakespeare in Britain' Shakespeare Quarterly 16 #4 (Fall 1965) p 321
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38 All references to Hamlet and The Tempest are to the acting texts, the Signet Hamlet ed EDWARD HUBLER (New York: New American Library 1963); and the New Arden The Tempest ed FRANK KERMODE (London: Methuen 1964)
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39 MAX WYMAN Vancouver Sun 14 June 1976
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40 Quoted by GILLIAN GARNER Sarnia Observer 18 May 1976
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41 JONES Hamlet and Oedipus (London: Victor Gollancz 1949)
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42 CHARLES POPE Scene Changes May-June 1976
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43 JACKSON Shakespeare Quarterly 28 p 200
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44 HUTT quoted in POPE Scene Changes Nov/Dec 1975-Jan 1976. It is interesting that when Phillips took over the Young Company again in 1987-88, Hutt once again joined to play Lear, in the second season
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45 KNELMAN Saturday Night June 1976
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The Comedy of Errors, The Stratford Festival, Avon Theatre
In repertory 19 May-30 Aug 1975
Directed by Robin Phillips and David Toguri
Designed by Jeffrey Sisco; basic set designed by Daphne Dare
Lighting by Gil Wechsler
Music by Alan Laing, arranged & directed by Berthold Carrière
Stage Managed by Peter Roberts

Solinus ... Douglas Chamberlain
Aegeon ... Richard Curnock
Antipholus of Syracuse ... Nicholas Pennell
Antipholus of Ephesus ... Barry MacGregor
Dromio of Syracuse ... Richard Whelan
Balthasar ... John Goodlin
Angelo ... Marc Connors
Doctor Pinch ... Eric Donkin
First Merchant ... Graeme Campbell
Second Merchant ... J. Kenneth Campbell
Emilia ... Mia Anderson
Adriana ... Jackie Burroughs
Luciana ... Gale Garnett
Luce ... Jan Kudelka
Courtesan ... Pat Bentley-Fisher
Jailor ... Don Hunkin
Officer ... Ian Wallace
Messenger ... Stephen Russell
Officers, Headsman and other attendants ... Robert G. Morel; Robin J. Nunn; Richard Partington; Melody Ryane; John Sweeney; Robert Vigod; Ian Wallace

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Stratford Festival, Avon Theatre
In repertory 20-May-30 Aug 1975
Directed by Robin Phillips and David Toguri
Designed by Molly Harris Campbell; basic set designed by Daphne Dare
Lighting by Gil Wechsler
Music by Martin Best
Stage Managed by Peter Roberts

Valentine ... Stephen Russell
Proteus ... Nicholas Pennell
Speed ... Bernard Hopkins
Launce ... Eric Donkin
Julia ... Mia Anderson
Lucetta ... Gale Garnett
Antonio ... Graeme Campbell
Panthino ... Marc Connors
Duke of Milan ... Douglas Chamberlain
Silvia ... Jackie Burroughs
Thurio ... J. Kenneth Campbell
Sir Eglamour ... Richard Curnock
Host ... Richard Partington
Singer ... Don Hunkin
Musicians ... Terry McKenna, Dean Meredith
Servant ... Ian Wallace
Ursula ... Pat Bentley-Fisher
Outlaws ... Marc Connors; Don Hunkin; Jan Kudelka; Robert G. More; Robin J. Nunn; Richard Partington; Melody Ryane; John Sweeney; Robert Vigod; Ian Wallace; Richard Whelan

Hamlet, The Stratford Festival, Avon Theatre (transferred to Festival Theatre)
In repertory 7 June-25 Sept (8-16 Oct on Festival Stage)
Directed by Robin Phillips and William Hutt
Designed by John Pennoyer; basic set designed by Daphne Dare
Lighting by Gil Wechsler
Music by Berthold Carrière
Fights by Patrick Crean
Assistant to the Director Bill Ballantyne
Stage Managed by Peter Roberts

Fransisco ... Paul Butt
Marcellus ... Victor A. Young
Bernardo ... Don Hunkin
Horatio ... Stephen Russell
Ghost ... Graeme Campbell
Claudius ... Michael Liscinsky
Gertrude ... Pat Galloway/Pat Bentley-Fisher
Hamlet ... Nicholas Pennell/Richard Monette
Polonius ... Eric Donkin
Ophelia ... Marti Maraden
Laertes ... Richard Partington
Reynaldo ... Robin Nunn
Osric ... Richard Curnock
Cornelius ... Bill Ballantyne
Voltemand ... John Goodlin
Court Ladies ... Barbara Budd; Melody Ryane
Court Attendants ... Paul Butt; William Merton Malmo; Richard Whelan; Jack Wetherall
Guildenstern ... Paul Batten
Rosencrantz ... Robert More
Players ... Bill Ballantyne; Paul Butt; William Merton Malmo
First Player ... Graeme Campbell
Player Queen ... Robin Nunn
Lucianus ... Jack Wetherall
Musician ... Richard Partington
Fortinbras ... Jack Wetherall
Captain ... Don Hunkin
Ophelia's Lady ... Pat Bentley-Fisher/Pat Galloway
Priest ... John Goodlin
Sailor ... Paul Butt
First Gravedigger ... Richard Whelan
Second Gravedigger ... William Merton Malmo
Pall Bearers ... Paul Batten; Paul Butt; William Merton Malmo; Robert More

The Tempest, The Stratford Festival, Avon Theatre (transferred to the Festival Theatre)
In repertory 8 June-23 Sept (1-11 Oct on Festival Stage)
Directed by Robin Phillips and William Hutt
Designed by John Ferguson; basic set designed by Daphne Dare
Lighting by Gil Wechsler
Music by Berthold Carrière
Assistant to the Director Bill Ballantyne
Stage Managed by Catherine McKeehan

Master ... Don Hunkin
Boatswain ... Stephen Russell
Alonso ... Eric Donkin
Ferdinand ... Jack Wetherall
Antonio ... Graeme Campbell
Gonzalo ... Richard Curnock
Sebastian ... Victor A. Young
Stephano ... Richard Whelan
Trinculo ... Barry MacGregor
Adrian ... Richard Partington
Fransisco ... Bill Ballantyne
Mariners ... Bill Ballantyne; Paul Batten; Paul Butt; John Goodlin; Michael Liscinsky; William Merton Malmo; Robert G. More; Robin Nunn; Richard Partington
Prospero ... William Hutt
Miranda ... Marti Maraden
Ariel ... Nicholas Pennell
Caliban ... Richard Monette
Spirits ... Paul Batten; Pat Bentley-Fisher; Barbara Budd; Paul Butt; Don Hunkin; Michael Liscinsky; William Merton Malmo; Robert G. More; Robin Nunn; Stephen Russell; Melody Ryane
Iris, Juno, Ceres ... Pat Galloway
Singer ... Gerald Isaac