Toronto
2 min

Lost at sea

Coronation Voyage takes on water

MAN OVERBOARD. Thirteen- year-old Sandro, played by Jeff Lillico, catches the eye of The Diplomat, portrayed by Peter Krantz, who strikes a deal with the boy's father. Credit: Andrée Lanthier

When the paedophile in The Coronation Voyage, currently running at the Shaw Festival, exclaims, “The lark is the symbol of man’s yearning for joy,” we are teased by one of many dark, titillating images comprising a script that expands the festival’s mandate to include new translations of non-English texts.



Written by Michel Marc Bouchard and translated from French by Linda Gaboriau, Voyage is an eerie, tragi-comic meditation on Canada’s coming of age following World War II. Bound for Elizabeth’s coronation, a motley crew crosses the Atlantic aboard the Empress Of France. This could have been a riotous study in colonial debauchery. It is not.



Perhaps someone short-circuited an early production meeting and plugged cast and crew into a non-musical rendition of Anything Goes. Ken MacDonald’s immaculate two-tiered set consists of a large colourful smokestack and a shiny wooden deck priming the audience for an evening of song and dance from Dames At Sea or Titanic: The Musical.



The inappropriate setting is not entirely lost on the jaded spectator who realizes that culture’s darkest secrets can take place among cheerful environs. But there is no contrasting relationship between lighting, set, costumes, direction and acting style. One craves a lustful, gritty rendition of Brecht’s Jungle Of Cities projected onto Bouchard’s elegantly written parable. One gets a waterlogged version of I Took The Wrong Road To Avonlea.



Performances seem tentative and one-dimensional. On a boat peopled by villains, their accomplices and their critics, one spectacular performance emerges from Donna Belleville as Alice Gendron. She transcends the jerky, back and forth blocking on the happy little set, and delivers a series of stylish tirades against a corrupted, divided nation. When Peter Krantz, as the diplomat/paedophile, portrays a traumatized psychological state induced by the debacle at Dieppe, he becomes an automaton more akin to a crew member from Star Trek: The Next Generation than a mid 20th-century shipboard predator. His relationship with Sandro, played by Jeff Lillico, lacks all passion.



Costumes by William Schmuck excel when the three Elisabeths appear. Their 1950s gowns come beautifully close to satire. Naturalistic lighting design by Alan Brodie lacks the contrast the production requires.



The Shaw production leaves far too much to the imagination and pays too little attention to the depth of contrast a symbol-laden script requires. Nevertheless, this provocative drama is well worth the price of admission and Shaw must be commended for including Bouchard in their extended mandate. Ships ahoy!



THE CORONATION VOYAGE.

$47-$77. Jul 5-Nov 1.

Festival Theatre.

Niagara-On-The-Lake.

1-800-511-7429.