Volume 95, Issue 15

Wednesday, September 26, 2001
Search the Archives:
Tips for searching

Campus and Culture
Submit Letter
Contact Us
About the Gazette


Sue knows she's a sex goddess

King Phoenix returns to throne after 50 years

God bless American celebs?

Devils rock, but Hayseed needs watering

Tough picking porn?

The Strokes: young and bright

King Phoenix returns to throne after 50 years

Four 1/2 Stars (out of five)

King Phoenix

John Turner, Jason Rip, Tim Culbert, Rachel Holden-Jones, Jan Weir

Directed by:
Jeff Culbert

By Ben Freedman
Gazette Writer

The latest production at the Grand Theatre's McManus Stage resurrects a thought-provoking play by one of Canada's greatest literary icons.

King Phoenix is a riveting exploration of Canadian writer Robertson Davies' idealized conservatism and spiritual curiosity.

The play weaves together old myths with timeless truths, attacking pretensions of faith and honour in the clergy and ultimately presenting a thoroughly entertaining statement about the triumph of righteous love over scientific rationalism.

The opening minutes clarify the symbolic nature of the piece, appropriately set in a mythical pre-Roman Britain.

Cadno, the arch druid (Jason Rip), has been poisoning the noble King (John Turner) for two years with no results. Using a slow-working poison from a wealthy merchant, Idomeneus (Tim Culbert), Cadno simply cannot take the life of the glorious King Cole, who has somehow managed to outlive all but one of his children and grandchildren.

His 17-year-old daughter, Helena – Princess of Albion (Rachel Holden-Jones), is the lead character in the play's main subplot, which explores the value and nature of true love. She is to marry Leolin – Prince of Armorica (Jan Weir) whom she has never kissed but knows is noble and will make a good leader.

Cadno, whose apprentice is the young Leolin, tries to convince him to kill his father-in-law. The prince refuses so Cadno tells the King that Leolin must be sacrificed to the gods.

Gods play important roles in this story. They serve as a means of control for a perverse clergy, as Cadno uses them to gain control of the crown. They also speak directly to the King, however when they do, they are surprisingly weak and servile. Davies creates a daunting picture of a religion built on hearsay and dogma.

As the first performance of King Phoenix in nearly fifty years, one might not expect such a thought-provoking and dynamic performance. However, in the words of the character Idomeneus, "I am always happy to be astounded. It keeps management of my opinion supple."

The set and music are perfect. Although the setting changes for each act, it retains the same minimalist aesthetic. The different levels create an interesting effect, elevating specific actors at important times.

John Turner's portrayal of the charismatic and virtuous King Cole is incendiary. He can always be trusted to deliver a performance full of creative subtleties, seamless mood changes and genuine raw emotion. When Cole speaks with his daughter about her upcoming marriage, he creates a tone of sympathy spliced with dry humour.

The rest of the cast execute their roles with obvious passion. As the central antagonist, Jason Rip has comic appeal, offering explosive stage chemistry.

The only weakness stems from Jan Weir's performance of Prince Leolin. His attempts at acting with honour and religious benevolence seem contrived and fake. Even when he consummates his love for the princess with a kiss, he comes across as cold.

King Phoenix's rebirth at the Grand Theatre's McManus Stage is, nonetheless, powerful. It stands as a testament to the quality of one of Canada's literary gems.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department:

Copyright The Gazette 2001