Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Costumes trump comedy in dated plays

  • Print

THE troupe's name suggests an ultra-skimpy budget. But Winnipeg's amateur Shoestring Players have mounted a Russian-flavoured comedic double bill for ShawFest in extravagantly beautiful period dress.

Set and costume designer Robert Butler, who does this as a hobby, apparently whipped up the opulent gowns and impressive military uniforms himself. The women in the first play, set in the imperial court of St. Petersburg in 1776, also wear stunningly elaborate wigs. The sets are full of rich fabrics and painterly touches.

At the end of the one-hour Great Catherine and the 25-minute Annajanska, the Bolshevik Empress, however, there's a sense that it was an awful lot of effort for the sake of two obscure Shaw works that mainly come across as time-warped curiosities.

The plays are both silly farces, their tone reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

The large-cast Great Catherine (1913), directed by Katherine McLennan, is by far the more entertaining of the two. It bases its broad humour in the exaggerated culture clash between the Russians, depicted as lusty near-barbarians, and the British, contrastingly uptight, protocol-obsessed and huffy.

The very proper Capt. Edstaston of the Light Dragoons (the terrific Bernard Boland) seeks an audience with Catherine the Great. But first he has to get past her buffoon adviser, Prince Patiomkin (Joe Stratton), a slovenly drunk. Stratton is the only cast member who lays on a thick Russian accent. His unfunny, boorish antics go on too long, giving the play a painfully slow start.

Thankfully, Rhonda Kennedy Rogers proves an outrageous delight as Empress Catherine II, a big, buxom, German-accented diva. Catherine wants to appear liberal, but routinely orders floggings and dispatches anyone who offends her to Siberia. When the British captain dares to snub her advances, she has him strung up, then tortures him by tickling him with her toes.

One imagines this was jolly hilarious to a 1913 audience. The interplay between the indignant "Just see here!" Boland and saucy Rogers does have delicious moments. But humour is often tied to its era, and the piece is dated to the point of being creaky. References to the writer Voltaire are meaningless to most of today's viewers.

There's an even greater gulf between a contemporary audience and Annajanska, the Bolshevik Empress, directed by Maureen Taggart. It's a 1918 satire that Shaw wrote as a vehicle for a popular actress to take a brief star turn.

We're in the midst of absurd revolutionary turmoil in 1917 "Beotia." Gen. Strammfest (Jean-Marc Blanc) complains that he much preferred life under an imperial ruler who was "raised above us as a God," but for self-preservation he has joined the prevailing Bolsheviks.

The Grand Duchess Annajanska, daughter of the deposed monarch whom the general worshipped so loyally, is delivered as a prisoner to Strammfest and a youthful lieutenant (Ian Scott). Far from wanting to return to her royal gilded cage, it seems the spunky "Comrade" Annajanska has embraced the revolution.

She shoots down all the general's notions, calling him an idolator. "I was no goddess, but only a girl," she says. "We royals . . . are mere flesh and blood."

It's mildly engaging to hear the socialist Shaw bandy about political ideologies and turn things topsy-turvy. But mostly, one is left wondering why this theatrically flimsy chestnut was pulled from the vaults.

The saving grace is Jennifer Gottwald's sensational, professional-calibre performance as Annajanska. The petite, wonderfully expressive Gottwald is a firecracker in a gorgeous fur-trimmed green coat.

Butler, the costume wizard, has given her a Russian-style winter hat that just about steals the whole production.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2012 G5

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Winnipeg Police remove dumpsters from behind homeless shelter

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Goslings with some size head for cover Wednesday afternoon on Commerce Drive in Tuxedo Business Park - See Bryksa 30 Goose Challenge- Day 12- May 16, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google