Review: 'Of Human Bondage' at Toronto’s Soulpepper

Review: 'Of Human Bondage' at Toronto’s Soulpepper

Joseph Szekeres

OnStage Toronto Critic

It is extremely rare that I have seen a live professional theatrical production by Toronto’s Soulpepper and wondered if I had wasted my money or not.  Not so with its current production OF HUMAN BONDAGE, a near flawless and stunning presentation of a play that captures and focuses our attention to the dynamic energy on stage after a momentary slow start.  Get to see this one before it closes as you will witness true craft performance by twelve artists at their best.

During my undergrad years, I’m remiss to say that I never had the opportunity to read any of W. Somerset Maugham’s works.  In the Programme Notes Michelle Monteith, who plays the complex Mildred Rogers, writes that the story for her this second time around deals with choices and how our lives are informed by the choices we make.  Choice is one of the important themes that runs continuously throughout this story.

Director Albert Schultz along with Vern Thiessen’s adaptation made wise choices in many areas of this production to transport us magically to early London, England at the turn of the twentieth century. Foremost is Erika Connors’ exquisite costume period pieces where our eyes constantly wander and marvel at the colours and textures in the clothing worn by this highly talented twelve member cast.  Lorenzo Savoini’s lighting design is taut and crisp while Mike Ross’ music composition and sound design continually keeps our sense of hearing strictly tuned in wanting to hear every note.

Our hearts continually break for Gregory Prest as central character Philip Carey. Here is a man who wants to pursue that artistic side in his life while realizing that being club footed will always create missed opportunities.  He has to complete his studies as a medical doctor while doling out money to the beautiful but avaricious Mildred Rogers (whom Richard Ouzounian called in his first review of this production a truly satanic bitch and that she is) who will most certainly end up destroying lives in the process.  Along with this femme fatale, Philip also falls for the pretty Norah Nesbit (a charming performance by Sarah Wilson).  

Well known and highly regarded Soulpepper luminaries play several supporting characters who continually challenge the oppressive world in which Carey finds himself victim.  Of note is Oliver Dennis as medical instructor Dr. Tyrell who reminds us of that one instructor would have had either in high school or our undergrad years who was extremely tough on us.  Once again, our hearts break as Carey’s friend, Griffiths, steals Mildred to be his own paramour.  Jeff Lillico convincingly charms us to believe Griffiths wants only the best for Carey until we see a darker side where we become incredulous at the hurt he has caused Carey. 

Retired Toronto Star reviewer Richard Ouzounian wrote in his 2014 review of this original production that OF HUMAN BONDAGE hadn’t reached its full potential.  Mr. Ouzounian also said that a little more polishing would render this play truly great.  Despite what might have been a shaky opening from my seat in the house, this 2017 production has had its polishing and is an astonishing production.  Make sure you see this one before it closes.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District, 50 Tank House Lane.  Visit www.soulpepper.ca for more information or telephone 1-416-866-8666 for tickets. Along with three other plays and musical performances, OF HUMAN BONDAGE will travel to New York City in July 2017 for four weeks of programming at Off Broadway’s Pershing Square Signature Centre, 480 W. 42nd Street.  SOULPEPPER ON 42ND STREET-CANADA CROSSES THE BORDER is a celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary and of Canada’s 150th birthday.  

The photo has been taken by Cylla Von Tiedemann.  In the photo are: L:  Oliver Dennis     R:  Gregory Prest

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