Shirley Valentine, meet Lotty Wilton (Jane E. Craven), Rose Arnott (Helen Martin), Caroline Bramble (Alexis Kellum-Creer) and Mrs Graves (Alison Schamberger). For long before you made your trip to Greece to escape your humdrum life, these four women did the same thing way back in the 1920s on their own trip to Italy.
Based on a 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, Enchanted April was first turned into an Academy Award nominated movie in 1992 with some major heavyweights including Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright. In 2003, Matthew Barber adapted the novel into this Tony Award winning stage play. Now, Vancouver’s Metro Theatre in its 442nd production (yes, you read correctly this is production #442 in an astounding 46 seasons) brings Enchanted April back to Vancouver with great results.
Meeting one day at their ladies’ club, Lotty and Rose decide to escape their rather bleak marriages by renting a castle in Italy. To help defray costs they place an advertisement seeking other women to join them. With only two responses, the two are joined by Lady Caroline Bramble, a younger woman tiring of her “jazz and gin” lifestyle and Mrs Graves an elderly widow with a very Victorian outlook on life.
For sure the women are the stars of this show and not only because Playwright Barber has actually given more life to his female characters than the men that surround them, but also because of the excellent work of the four lead actresses. Led by Craven the four manage to inhabit these very distinct women with ease and indeed it is because of them that the show works as well as it does.
That is not to say the men don’t do a decent job here as well including Michael Wild as Lotty’s husband Mellersh, Daryl Hutchings as Rose’s husband Frederick and Sean Oliver as Antony Wilding, the owner of the castle but they are certainly no match for these four female powerhouses.
Of course, one cannot forget the hilarious Helen Vokow as the Costanza, the housekeeper at the castle who, though speaking very little English, manages to help the four women re-discover themselves.
Set Designer Dwayne Campbell does a great job moving us from the rather humdrum locales in England in act one to a spectacular act two in Mezzago, Italy. In fact, Campbell received an appreciative round of applause from the audience for his second act set. Our only quibble here though is in the various scene changes in act one that seemed to take an eternity which didn’t help with the pacing. Fortunately Director Catherine Morrison helped somewhat with the scene changes by cleverly dressing the (all woman) stage crew in proper English maid uniforms in London and as Italian servants when we move to Italy in act two.
Costume Designer Rene Schindel does a good job capturing the 1920s dress from the very formal men’s wear to Lady Caroline’s more risque flapper dress. Branch MacDonald does a good job taking us from drab and dreary London to the bright sunshine of Italy but much like the very slow scene changes the scene transitions could have been much tighter.
Sound Designers Catherine Morrison and Miles Lavkulich also do a decent job although Director Morrison may have taken the old adage “less is more” to heart here and ensured the music was used a bit more sparingly. But these technical critisms are minor, considering the performances by the four women in this production, and definitely don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the show.
Finally, I will admit here to something that I am a little bit embarrased about … having lived in Vancouver now for almost 22 years this is my first visit to a Metro Theatre production. If the quality of Enchanted April is any indication though this will definitely not be my last to this local amateur group.
Enchanted April plays at the Metro Theatre (1370 SW Marine Drive) through July 11th. Tickets are $15-$18 each and can be purchased by calling the Metro Theatre box office at 604.266.7191. For more information and showtimes visit http://www.metrotheatre.org.