What inspires us about various historical figures? Yeats: A Ceremony of Innocence playing at the Robert Gill Theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival is a one-man show about the life of William Butler Yeats. Unfortunately, its passionate attempt to offer an insight into Yeats delivered what I found to be an exhausting and unfocused presentation.
There are a multitude of problems with Yeats: A Ceremony of Innocence, but I feel they stem from a well-meaning centre. Daniel Giverin both playwright and actor is clearly fascinated by the poet. The information presented and the stories he attempts to tell are part of what makes Yeats an interesting piece of history.
Wanting to portray an interesting figure, however, is not quite the same as telling a story.
I think the play doesn’t know quite what it wants to do for the audience. Are we meant to learn about Yeats generally? Or is the focus Yeats semi-failed relationship with Maud Gonne? Or, instead, is it the rise of Irish theatre and literature during political turmoil? The play jumps around painfully from bit to bit, often with unnecessary filling.
Giverin, as Yeats and the narrator, seemed like he was in a similar position. Obviously, he likes the subject, but the decision to include every detail possible resulted in huge bouts of information with little personality. And it impacts what is already an erratic performance. I felt like Giverin was rushing through the material, sometimes even dropping words half-way through in order to start the next sentence.
The staging didn’t help. I understand it can be difficult to find a balance between space and performer on a stage in a solo show, but Giverin didn’t trust his own ability to command attention. Instead, he was in constant motion, and I couldn’t help but note that it was all action without purpose. He did not need the props that seemed to interrupt his words even as he tried to work with them. They did little more than clutter the stage in an already overwhelming show.
And here is the rub for me: the moments that steal the show, that really stand out, are the ones where Giverin stands still. For instance, Yeats’ first meeting with Gonne or the story of the riots at the Irish National theatre made him stop and take a breath.
It was these moments where Giverin forgot he needed to do theatre and instead allowed himself to perform.
- Yeats: A Ceremony of Innocence is playing until July 12 at the Robert Gill Theatre (214 College Street)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
- Venue is not accessible.
- The venue is very cold. I would recommend a sweater.
July 06 at 10:30 PM
July 07 at 06:45 PM
July 09 at 01:45 PM
July 10 at 12:30 PM
July 12 at 04:30 PM
Photo of Daniel Giverin as Yeats by David Patterson