Geoffrey Tennant: You know there is one thing about acting
that I miss.
Geoffrey Tennant: I was in love with an actress. Beautiful,
talented actress. And when we were together on the stage it was like,
like having sex in public... and I have never felt as close to anyone.
played all of the great love scenes and we meant
it and people would stand and they'd cheer and then they would
flowers and then we would go home and we would make love... And that, I
that. Because life cannot compete with that.
I'll admit I'm not a huge Shakespeare fan. My
high school English teachers managed to
wring any feeling of enjoyment or appreciation out of his plays that we
(along with all the other books we studied... and this is coming from a
worm) and an amateur production of A
Midsummer's Night Dream that my wife dragged me to when we were
confirmed my suspicion that the Bard just wasn't my cup of tea. When a review copy of the Canadian program Slings and Arrows arrived I was curious
but had mixed feelings. I had heard that
the show, about the trials and tribulations back stage at a theater
that put on
Shakespeare was wonderful, but I'd heard that about Shakespeare too. Yeah, it had won a lot of awards in Canada
(13 Gemini Awards in fact) but what was it up against?
The Red Green Show? But DVDTalk
writer David Cornelius raved
about the three seasons (read his reviews here)
and that put the show on my
radar. So I decided to take the plunge,
and I'm sure my wife would enjoy it even if I didn't (she's much
Wow. Never has a show
so totally surprised me and wildly exceeded my expectations. Densely plotted without being confusing, full
of deep characterization without becoming melodramatic, and wildly
while never getting silly, this is a remarkable show that deserves all
accolades it has received.
Set in the fictional Canadian town of New Burbage, the show
centers around the city's internationally recognized annual Shakespeare
festival performed at the New Burbage Theater.
Many famous casts have appeared on stage at the festival, and
one of the
very best actors was Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross).
He had an amazing career until performing the
lead in Hamlet seven years ago when Tennant had a nervous breakdown, on
stage. He went crazy and was
institutionalized for a
time and as the series starts he's managing a rundown penniless theater
about to be evicted.
The director of that infamous version of Hamlet that drove
Geoffrey over the edge Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette), and his
time lover, Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns) stayed at the New Burbage
helped the festival grow and expand.
They increased attendance by making the stuffy old plays more
and business manager Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney) added a gift
the lobby (where visitors can buy kitschy products like an inflatable
of the man from Edvard Munch's The Scream)
and even wrangled a corporate sponsor!
As the money and people started pouring in, compromises had to
naturally, and the quality of the productions fell.
As the first season opens the festival is underway and they're
getting ready to start rehearsals for the showcase of that year's
season, Hamlet. They've managed to get
Jack Crew (Luke Kirby),
a young American movie star who has had a string of successful action
play the tragic Dane. With a name like
his on the marquee, every show is guaranteed to sell out.
No one will notice that he can't really act.
There's the usual pre-show mania: problems
with actors, problems with sets, and
mindless meetings to attend, but Oliver handles it well.
Until one evening when he gets drunk, starts
to remember the old days and what happened seven years ago. He calls up Geoffrey to explain his role in
the mysterious events, but Geoffrey doesn't want to talk with him and
repeatedly. Then Oliver, drunk as a
skunk, passes out in the street where he's hit and killed by a truck
load of pigs. (That's a nice example of
some of the subtle humor that permeates the show: the
theater director was killed by hams.)
Richard Smith-Jones positions himself to take over running the
Burbage but after an impressive speech at Oliver's wake by Geoffrey,
mention the Richard-created fiasco that follows, he's passed over in
Tennant who is named interim artistic director.
The actor reluctantly accepts but it's not until later that he
he'll have to direct Hamlet, a play that drove him insane, with an
as the lead. To make matters worse,
Oliver, still upset over what happened seven years ago, is haunting him
he just mad?) The specter mainly gives
advice, though usually unwanted, and goads the mentally fragile Tennant
he used to way back when. Having a crazy
director who shouts at thin air and a star who would rather make up his
than follow Shakespeare's text is bad enough, but with the business
trying to pull off a coup and turn the town of New Burbage into a
park (playing mainly musicals) and working to sabotage the production,
a miracle if the whole thing doesn't collapse.
And that's just the first season. In the
second season (I'll keep this short)
Geoffrey tempts fate by putting on the cursed play, Macbeth, with a new
Henry Breedlove (Geraint Wyn Davies), and the two do not get along. Meanwhile Richard is scrambling to find
funding and manages to get a government grant.
The only problem is that the money must be used for "rebranding"
campaign that's launched is, well... different.
The third and final season has the festival putting on a
pair of shows: King Lear, directed by
Geoffrey, and a new musical directed by Tennant's nemesis in the
Darren Nichols (Don McKellar) who has unusual ideas about the theater.
The beauty of this show is the way all of the myriad plots
(there are more than what I've listed here) are presented through each
without having to shoehorn them into to each episode.
It's a marvelously written show that manages
to fully flesh out the characters seemingly effortlessly in a minimum
time. There's enough going on in each of
these six episode stories for a two or three full length 24 episodes
and the fact that they cram so much into so little time, without it
rushed in the least, is unbelievable.
If it was only that though the show would be very good, but
the writers Mark McKinney (formerly of Kids
in the Hall), Susan Coyne, and Bob Martin, take it a step farther
filling each season with a few themes that are reflected in both the
on-stage and the action behind the curtain.
This is done with subtly and finesse too, without a character
state the connections. A beautiful
example is how they metaphorically passed the torch from one generation
next at the end of the first season.
After giving her first big performance, a young actress (played
McAdams) runs off stage and up to Geoffrey exclaiming "Is there
anything better than this?!" Without
waiting for a response she runs to her boyfriend, who was also in the
production, and energetically kisses him.
She wonderfully mimics the way Geoffrey himself said he felt a
episodes earlier (as is quoted at the top of this review) without
using any of the same words.
Which brings me to the cast.
Across the board they are magnificent.
It's pretty easy to portray a bad actor, and there are several
who have those roles, but how do you get across that a character is a
world-class, stand-up-and-cheer performer? You can't just have
characters say "my,
he's a good actor" you have to show it.
And that means getting someone who is that good, obviously. They managed to find a how crew of talented
thespians for this show. Paul Gross is
amazing as the lead. He has such
presence that it's impossible not to pay attention to him while he's on
screen. In an early episode (the first?)
he give a talk to a room full of actors about what theater is, and
and it's so impressive that I wouldn't be surprised if some people
acting because of that scene. He's
joined by a cast that's equally adept at dark comedy as well as deep
drama. Stephen Ouimette, Mark McKinney,
and Martha Burns all do a superb job, but I even enjoyed the lesser
as Matt Fitzgerald who played Ellen's dim-witted but very attractive
young) boy-toy Sloan. With a few lines
he established that he really cares for the older actress and also that
not that bright. Of course the person
who really gets the best comedic lines is Don McKellar who plays the
Nichols to wonderful excess in all three seasons. Darren's
ideas for productions are hilarious,
such as his Hamlet, where he wants to get across that the play is old,
and rotting by making the actors, the sets, and even the studio smell. For Romeo and Juliet he decides that the
shouldn't touch, or even look, at each other.
His first line in the series is a classic too:
"I'm Darren Nichols. Deal with
Rarely has a show been so well written and finely crafted as
Slings & Arrows. A magnificent work
that is truly great. Run out and get a
All three seasons (18 episodes in all) arrive on 6 Blu-ray
discs that come in three double cases housed in a slipcase.
The 1.78:1 1080p image looks very good, with the exception
of the first season. Season one was
upconverted and while it looks okay, it's not as solid as a true HD
product. Seasons 2 and 3 however are
great. The skin tones are accurate, the
blacks are nice and solid and the level of detail is very good. There are some crushed whites in the first
season, but that's not a problem later on.
The show really comes to life in the full HD seasons and viewers
already have the DVD release may find it worth the upgrade.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track suits the show well.
It really doesn't give your system much of a
workout, there isn't much in the way of pyrotechnics as much as Darren
would like there to be, as the show is dialog based.
The voices are clear and strong and the
background music and audio effects come through nicely without
Though I don't have the DVD release, it appears that all of
the bonus materials from the earlier single season sets and the
box are included here. There's a short
fluff behind-the-scenes piece, A Look
Behind the Scenes, which was nice but too short and filled with too
clips from the show. Better were the
brief (3-10 minute) interviews with the cast and crew including Stephen
Ouimette, Martha Burns, and Graham Harley.
There is also a longer, though less interesting Director
on the Set featurette which is basically half an hour of
someone filming the set as a show is being recorded.
It's pretty dull.
There are also deleted scenes to several episodes, bloopers,
a series of photo galleries for each season, production notes and song
In addition there are three commentary tracks exclusive to
this Blu-ray release. They are on the
episodes: Season 1, Episode 1 with Bob
Martin, Mark McKinney, and Susan Coyne; Season 2, Episode 6 with Graham
and Michael Polley; and Season 3, Episode 6 with Paul Gross and Martha
and director Peter Wellington.
Simply put, Slings and
Arrows is one of the best shows that I have ever seen.
Like the plays that the fiction troupe performs,
the show is tightly written with a cast of wonderful characters that
portray a depth
of characterization that is rarely found outside of novels. This show is dramatic with never becoming
maudlin or over the top and features a healthy dose of comedy that will
smile on your face long after the episode is finished.
It is very smart, but not pretentious, and deserves
to be seen by a wider audience. Don't
wait to check this one out. DVDTalk
The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not
represent the image quality on the disc.