The Play of Daniel (Danielis ludus) is a 12th or 13th century Latin liturgical play from Beauvais in nothern France. It appears in the liturgy for January 1st, The Feast of the Circumcision, and appears to have been an attempt to channel the traditional post Christmas disorder into more acceptable channels. It was probably performed by the sub deacons of the Cathedral; young men in minor orders. Alex and David Fallis have run with this setting and tried to create a piece that would evoke the same sort of reactions from a 21st century audience as the original did for those who saw it in Beauvais. That’s a huge ask but, to my mind, they succeeded admirably.
If we deconstruct the key elements of the piece as staged by The Toronto Consort certain things stand out:
- The piece is performed in a church (Trinity St. Paul’s) and brilliant use is made of the whole space.
- Many young people are involved. In this case the Viva! Youth Singers of Toronto who range in age from maybe eight or nine to teenagers. The blend of immature voices with the eight trained adult singers is crucial.
- It’s given in English (mostly) in a breezy translation by David Fallis that manages to use rhyming couplets without being sucky. No mean feat.
- It combines low humour and slapstick with great solemnity. This is not random. The drinking and fooling are always given to characters who have fallen off from Godliness. The saintly Daniel doesn’t have a funny line in the whole piece.
Within this structure we got some very fine performances and some really touching and some really funny scenes, though the whole is much more than the sum of the parts for the reasons given above. I’d single out the exceptionally singing and dignified acting of tenor Kevin Skelton as Daniel. He was given stylized movements and sang in what I think of as the Anglican manner with great clarity and purity of tone. He really embodied the auster young man he is portraying. Michele DeBoer (Queen, Angel) was the only adult female in the piece. She too, as the other entirely virtuous character, had great dignity and got to sing the one “air” in the piece, Here among your captives held in thrall, very beautifully with just a hint of ornamentation. The incredibly versatile Bud Roach and the inimitable David Fallis were a hoot as the evil counsellors who eventually get a leonine upcommance. To be honest Olivier Laquerre looked great as Belshazzar but seemed vocally rather wasted in a sea of plainsong recits befitting his flawed character though he did get a fun drinking song.
The other soloists were fine too and the kids were wonderful. There was also some use of a pair of dancers; Heidi Strauss and Brodie Stevenson. They were really interesting on their handful of appearances. I could have happily seen more of them. The quartet of on stage, costumed, musicians provided wonderfully varied accompaniments on instruments from psaltery to hurdy-gurdy by way of pipes, bells and stringed instruments. (So, a Bechlein and a Leiermann within a few days. It really has been that kind of week.)
I wish I could tell you to rush out and see this but yesterday was the final performance of the run. I do hope the The Toronto Consort find the means to revive it because it deserves a bigger audience.
Photo credits: Glenn Davidson.
Michele DeBoer, Paul Jenkins, Derek Kwan, Olivier Laquerre, Terry McKenna, John Pepper, Bud Roach and Kevin Skelton appear courtesy of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association.