Review: Of Human Bondage (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper Theatre presents Of Human Bondage in Toronto that is “beautiful” and “evocative”

Soulpepper’s production of Of Human Bondage opened on Friday evening. It’s a beautiful production. Everything works together; the cast, the direction, the set, the lighting, the sound and music. Vern Thiessen’s adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s complex novel, brilliant direction by Albert Schultz, and exciting set and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini bring the story to life on the stage.

Even though the novel was written more than a hundred years ago the story is still relevant and recognizable. On the surface the story is about the destructive relationship between Philip and Mildred but it’s also about poverty and addiction, art versus science, friendship and loyalty, and class.

Gregory plays Philip Carey as a confused, vulnerable, self-destructive man who really isn’t sure what he wants from life. Michelle Monteith’s Mildred Rogers is a horrible woman who goes from seductive to indifferent to raging harridan in seconds.

The ten other cast members are onstage for the whole show. When they aren’t actively in a scene they are in shadow at the sides of the stage providing ambient noise and playing instruments. They all play more than one role, it must be exhausting.

Savoini’s lighting plays a large role in the production. It defines the areas of the stage that are active and effectively becomes part of the set. It emphasizes an important moment in the play by casting huge shadows of the actors on to the back wall.

The show features the most effective suicide scene I’ve ever seen, just basically light and shadow. I also loved the way the lights literally came down at the end of the first scene and went up at the beginning of the second.

The set was fairly minimalist but effective. Two tables and three chairs become a tearoom. A gurney becomes a table. People holding picture frames become paintings.

Composer Mike Ross’s sound also becomes part of the set. The tearoom is more real with the murmur of unseen voices and the clinking of cups and saucers. The cooing of doves makes an attic bedroom seem more real. Both scenes would work without the sound but are fabulous with it.

Schultz’s scene changes were rapid and seamless and aided by the lighting. An actor turns around, the light changes, and it’s a new scene.

I’ve always enjoyed Soulpepper productions and Schultz’s directing but they are usually quite traditional. Of Human Bondage is different than anything I’ve seen there, or anywhere really. It’s beautiful, evocative and imaginative. Really amazing theatre.

The production is going to New York in the summer. I really hope it has a successful run. In the meantime, go and see it now while it’s in Toronto.

Details:

Photo of Paolo Santalucia and Gregory Prest by Cylla von Tiedemann

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