Stratford Festival’s “Shakespeare in Love”

I know this might come as a shock, but I have never seen the movie version of Shakespeare in Love. I mean, I own the movie: I bought it one time when it was on a great sale, but I never got a chance to watch it. So I wasn’t totally sure what to expect when we went to go and see the play. I knew it was a little historically inaccurate, and I knew that people LOVED it. I can now join the list of people who LOVE that story. 

One thing I hadn’t known going in was that Tom Stoppard was involved in writing this story. That small fact gave me a whole different perspective on the piece. Stoppard’s works are brilliant, and this one is no exception. The integration of Shakespeare’s works into the world around him, the nods to the real people who were instrumental in Shakespeare’s success, and just playing with the conventions of the period (a woman on stage?!? Never!) and using it all in a way that is so smart and humorous, I was thoroughly entertained. While  it’s certainly a play which rewards those who are familiar with the period and its players, this was a show that had everyone laughing!

Being able to have the sets and costume designs from the West End production was a real treat! The set was beautiful, with the wood panneling looking so much like Shakespeare’s Globe. I was amazed by the number of places the actors had to run up and down, in and out of the woodwork. It was totally mesmerizing! The costumes were equally beautiful, intricate and transportive; showing the extravagance of court and the simplicity of everyday life. From lace and pearls to leather and linen, they were all dressed perfectly. The addition of on-stage musicians also enhanced the Renaissance feel, and it was so great to see those musicians playing actual roles within the play. 

Like Humphrey (Will Shakespeare) and Shannon Taylor (Viola de Lesseps) lead the incredible cast, full of Startford’s finest playing Elizabethan England’s finest. Notable mentions going to Tom McCamus (Fennyman), Stephen Ouimette (Henslowe), Micheal Spencer-Davis (Tilney), Saamer Usmani (Christopher Marlowe) and Brad Hodder (Ned Alleyn) just to name a very few. It was a great joy for me to see these people who I’ve read about, studied and imagines brought so beautifully to life. I could hardly contain myself as they talked about Beaumont and Fletcher, had Hemmings and Condell as part of Shakespeare’s cast, John Webster being uber creepy and gory (sings of things to come), Tilney being such an uptight Master of Revells; I was in my glory. 

I cannot express how much I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love. I look forward to a rainy day off where I can finally watch the award winning film of one of my newest favourite stories. If you’re in Stratford this weekend, make sure to catch this amazing play on Sunday for its final performance.

Stratford Festival’s “The Hypochondriac”

The Hypochondriac may have started a little later in Stratford’s season, but it was definitely worth the wait. A hilarious Restoration comedy which was just as relevant today as for Molière himself, The Hypochonriac is sure to tickle everyone’s funny bone!

I really enjoyed the frame narrative for the play; not only was it based on the true facts surrounding the original play itself, but also was a great nod to the time period in general. I loved the Commedia Dell’Arte performance, the juggling and music and tumbling, all beautiful examples of the kind of street art which was so prevalent at the time and heavily informed Molière’s theatre. We also get to see Molière’s company preparing for the performance, totally unaware of what will befall them later in the evening. When the “doctors” came out at the end of that section with the cell phone, I nearly feel out of my chair laughing; I love it when they’re able to give the standard “Please turn off your cell phone” message in a unique and funny way. 

The appearance of King Louis further solidified the time period for the piece, but then also gave context to the many nods which are given to him throughout the play. It also added a level of meta-theatricality, making the frame all the more complete. 

However, at the end of the play, when the play within the play is over, and Molière (Stephen Ouimette) has taken ill, that meta-theatrically comes into play again as La Thorilliere (Ben Carlson) calls out “Is there a doctor in the house?” Reality comes crashing in on the hilarity we have just witnessed. This sobering ending was totally smashed to bits at the performance I attended, where someone said back “I’m not a doctor, but I’m a dentist!” We all laughed at the spontaneity of the whole incident, and yet it’s one of the things that make theatre the beautiful art it is; no one had ever shouted back before, the cast was flabbergasted! And yet that afternoon that lone voice responded to La Thorilliere’s pleas. And who knows if it’s happened again since? These one-off experiences make the show all the more memorable.

However the expert acting in this show is what’s truly memorable! Ouimette especially was pitiful, hilarious and yet loveable; a perfect Restoration lead. He was supported by a large, impressive cast, including Brigit Wilson, Trish Lindström, Ian Lake, Luke Humphrey and Shannon Taylor. They were truly able to bring not only Molière’s story, but his whole world to life on stage. And some of the cast exhibited extraordinary tablets: from tumbling to juggling to music and dancing, the expertise of the whole cast was truly put on display, and made for a feast for the eyes.

The Masque at the end of the play has to be one of my favourite conclusions to one of Molière’s works, as Argan (Ouimette) becomes the solution to his own ailments, and we can see a clear path to happily-ever-after for the characters involved. It provides a perfect juxtaposition to the ending to the play itself as I had mentioned previously; once Argan’s problems are solved, Molière’s begin. 

One of the things that I found the most interesting was how a modem audience was able to connect so fully to this play. Often times with Restoration comedy, there are so many jokes which are couched in inuendo or timely references that they don’t play well for a modern audience. Yet because this play deals with the human body, our health and the medical system, it remains totally relatable and still hysterical for today’s theatre-goers. It actually gives the show the same kind of universally human qualities that we see in other of our most beloved plays. 

The Hupochondriac closes on the 14th, so make sure to catch this hilarious comedy!