With stellar costumes, dazzling hair styles, a glorious set and 12 very capable actors, Windsor’s University Players are giving theatre lovers the engagement of the year. The troupe brings St. John Hankin’s The Cassilis Engagement to life at Essex Hall for a charming production that feels more like a limited run at The Stratford Festival than it does as part of a university theatre lineup.
The Cassilis Engagement is an interesting play to choose. A mostly forgotten work written in 1907, the play found a new life in 2007 when it was resurrected for a triumphant run at The Shaw Festival, in essence making it appear as a fresh and new work with historical merit. The UP performances mark the first time the show has ever been performed in Windsor.
Although it was originally written in four acts, UP brings it together in two, telling the story of the unlikely engagement of upperclassman Geoffrey Cassilis and Cockney English-spoken Ethel Borridge. What ensues is a lively and heated clash between upper and lower-class mothers and some meddling from Cassilis family friends.
The story revolves around the engagement, but really focuses on the highly refined Mrs. Cassilis and obnoxious and crass Mrs. Borridge as their children bring them together to plan the wedding. Mrs. Cassilis invites Geoffrey’s fiancée and her mother to their sprawling country estate to introduce them to the demands of high society. Much to Ethel’s embarrassment, her mother can’t help but show a lack of etiquette at every turn.
Right from the start, this feels like a peek back in time to an era where clothing meant everything. There were a few costume changes and subtle hints at costume changes as the characters prepared or walked off stage to prepare for different meals, activities and parties. Of particular note were the various gowns worn throughout the show.
Sarah Hagarty (Mrs. Cassilis) and Avery MacDonald (Mrs. Borridge) led the cast through a series of plot twists and humourous moments, including Mrs. Borridge’s often hilarious Cockney accent which required Ethel’s constant corrections. Brennan Roberts was smashing as Geoffrey and looked the part of the regal young lad, with a modest accompaniment from Kyra Scarlett as Ethel. Katelyn Doyle was so good as The Countess of Remenham, you’d swear she was born of royalty herself. Her extended rant at the beginning of the show is priceless and the character is not afraid to speak her mind.
“And now will you please pour out my tea?” she says. “I have come here to scold you and I shall require several cups.”
This is a grand production from UP and worthy of praise just for the hairstyles alone. It’s a stark contrast from the brilliantly executed and dreamy feel of Beauty and The Beast from earlier this season, but the elaborate attention to detail in this show is a marvel that needs to be seen.
The Cassilis Engagement runs for five more shows Thursday through Sunday this week (Feb. 6-9) with 8pm shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available online, by phone at 519-253-3000 ext. 2808 or at the Box Office at Essex Hall ( located on the campus of the University of Windsor, near the corner of Sunset Ave. and Wyandotte St. W.).