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 “Breath of Kings: Rebellion and Redemption”

When the news came out that Graham Abbey had been working on an adaptation of four of Shakespeare’s history plays, and that they were going to modify the Tom Patterson Theatre especially for the production, I was thrilled. There’s nothing more exciting than getting to see a brand new piece and in a totally different way than it would normally be staged. Breath of Kings exceeded my expectations and gave me a totally different view of Shakespeare’s histories; it made me want to see the full versions immediately!

Breath of Kings: Rebellion tells the story of Henry Bolingbroke and his rise to power over King Richard II, using the plays Richard II for its first act and Henry V Part 1 for its second act. A political thriller for the first act turns into a bloody battle for supremacy by the second, making for an amazing buildup to the final battle. Breath of Kings: Redemption focuses more on young Henry, or Prince Hal, and his rise to power through Henry V Part II and Henry V. Once again culminating in an epic battle, this piece was fascinating and fast paced as young Hal goes from miscreant to King overnight.

The most immediate thing that struck me was the stage. Not only was it redesigned to be theatre in the round (which I LOVE) but for Rebellion there was a thick layer of mulch covering the stage. This mulch would be pushed, dragged, and raked all over the stage. I loved how when the play needed to take place indoors the mulch was pushed aside with the boxes to create a hallway-like path. But for me the best part was after the battle scene, the mulch had been spread back out over the stage, so there was this amazing map of the battle left on the floor after the actors had left, I can only imagine how incredible it must have looked from above. For Redemption, the stage was the bare white that you could see underneath the mulch, but as the battle of Agincourt was waged, the floor came up in these massive, jagged pieces which left the earth turned up and ragged by the end of the play; a torn world which Hal will be responsible to put back together. Paired with amazing costuming and lighting, the play was a visual spectacular and every detail and movement carried such weight and purpose.

The cast was massive, with a whole host of Stratford’s best populating the stage. Helmed by Graham Abbey (Henry IV), Tom Rooney (Richard II), and Araya Mengesha (Henry V) the level of passion in these performances breathes such life into these pieces and makes them the memorable experience that they are. Richard II was such a fascinating character, the way we watch him succumb to Bolingbroke and his men, then seeing Bolingbroke, who used to wield amazing power, get so ill was heartbreaking. The whole time you’re watching their enemies try to rise against them, while others rally to their side. I had previously seen Henry V in full, and so knew of the death of Falstaff, but what I hadn’t realized was that he died of a broken heart; it broke my heart to see Hal cast off his old friends, miscreants though they may be, in favour of being the “king” he thinks he has to be. He rejects their company almost immediately instead of helping them as he’s now able to do. This deeply saddened me, and actually made me watch the second act of Redemption with a totally different gaze than I had when I saw Henry V. I was also thrilled that the Chorus in Henry V was kept, the Chorus has some of the most beautiful poetry in Shakespeare’s cannon, and the play would have felt incomplete without it.

One of the elements that was particularly interesting was how many men were portrayed by women. It brought the dynamic to a totally different level to both pieces, and seeing these women in power roles was inspiring. It confirmed the level of innovation and expertise that was poured into this show and made it an experience I’ll never forget.

I was absolutely blown away by this production. I cannot begin to recommend it enough. The plays close September 24th, so catch it before it closes!!

Flashback Friday – Stratford 2015

As I ready myself for a weekend of theatre at the Stratford Festival, I want to take a quick look back at the remaining shows which I saw from the 2015 season.
On August first I was lucky to get to take in two shows: Carousel and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Both of them were fairly new to me (I saw Carousel when I was young but didn’t remember the production), and made for a memorable day of theatre. 

Carousel was a visually stunning show which I thoroughly enjoyed. I had a great personal attachment to this show as a friend of mine from school, Alexis Gordon, had the lead role of Julie Jordan. This was her Stratford debut and she blew me away! She paired so well with Johnathan Winsby, and I was amazed by her beautiful voice. She was one of a great many amazing actors involved in this production.

The carousel itself was AMAZING! Such a beautiful, intricate piece of machinery that immediately solicited “oohs” and “ahs” from the audience. The glowing full sized carousel horses were stunning. It truly sets the stage for the rest of the play: the allure of the carnival, the light it brings into their lives, and the darkness that settles when it leaves. 

What made me sad was how the reviews of the play focused so heavily on the domestic violence aspect of the play, rather than the story as a whole. While the subject is rather jarring, and certainly unacceptable by modern standards, it is truly just a portion of a much larger story. The play, as a whole, is beautiful, and while the ending is a little strange I feel like there are larger issues at play like love, forgiveness, and learning from the past. It was an emotional journey with sensational singing and dancing; truly a joy to behold. 

Later that evening, I was fortunate enough to take in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. Upon good advisement, I read the play on my way there, and yet the language was so beautifully crafted that it was easily understood. The play is funny beyond measure, and while it lacks the clear resolution we all desire, its self awareness of this fact made it all the more enjoyable.

One aspect which I found especially intriguing was how the play looks at learned men. Both depictions have major flaws, and yet Holofrenes’ ignorance comes off as merely comical, while Navarre’s lack of will power (along with the rest of his men) is slightly more disconcerting. Neither of them truly exhibit all of the qualities they claim to have, and so we get a glimpse of how similar “learned” men were viewed in the period.

In direct contrast to them are Moth and Don Adriano de Armando, and while they provide a level of comic relief, Moth is the most observant character in the play. These two stole the show, making us laugh and question what we were watching throughout the show. It’s amazing to see this articulate child be far smarter than the grown men he serves.

I found that this was an exceptionally well cast piece, with every bit of the puzzle fit in so perfectly. It was also a fun mix of Festival favourites and newcomers, which was such fun to watch!

The following afternoon, We got to experience The Sound of Music. This show has always been a favourite of mine, yet this production easily stood on its own and didn’t even warrant comparison to the film. I actually found it to be great fun to get to fall in love with this story all over again. 

The while production, every little element of it, was awe inspiring; I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the show. Stephanie Rothenberg, who played Maria, was so genuine and emotional, she did an amazing job with the kids, she was a pleasure to watch. She sang beautifully, as did the Mother Superior, and I felt that she played off Ben Carlson very well.

The set itself deserves special mention, as they had a full size gazebo which collapsed and expanded like an umbrella and a little tree on a hill for Maria’s hilltop scenes. This, paired with the grand staircase which was able to be transformed into every location required, shows the true extent of the marvel the Stratford Festival is able to inspire.

The children in the show were absolutely adorable, and performed like such professionals. We even found out later that one of the young ladies was the understudy, but you would never have known. They brought a happiness and light to the show which totally made it the incredible show it was.

Overall, the Startford 2015 season was one of pure delight. From old friends to new discoveries, dramas to musicals, thought provoking to light hearted; 2015 had it all! I’m so glad I got to see as many shows as I was, and I look forward to what 2016 has in store.

Stratford Festival’s “As You Like It”

I was so happy to take two of my dearest friends to Stratford for their first time to see As You Like It back in June. We had been planning the trip since last December, so we’d been counting down the months and weeks until we finally got to go! The show was well worth the wait, and was way beyond expectations.

The setting for the show was wonderfully done; from the costumes to the hair, they didn’t miss a beat at making sure we knew it was the 80’s! Setting it in the East Coast made it even more fun. It really helped with the inclusive feel of the show (more on that to come) and gave a whole different kind of energy and life into the performance. The singing and dancing was infectious! We couldn’t stop smiling and danced all the way to the car. The set itself was beautifully simplistic and malleable, making each location distinct and lovely; the Forest of Arden being the most beautiful of all.

As I mentioned earlier, the show asks for full audience participation, and what a joy it is to do so! Upon entering the audience is asked to take a small bag with several items inside (most of which you get to take home!) and you are given instructions by Hymen herself (played by Robin Hutton) as to what props to use when. It was great fun and made for lots of laughs. One of my favourite moments happened in the second scene of the play, as Celia (Trish Lindström) is trying to comfort her saddened Rosalind (Petrina Bromley), Celia takes away the tub of ice cream that Rosalind has been devouring, and offers it up to an audience member. “Sure! I’d love some!” I said, and next thing I knew I had a tub of ice cream with a scoop or two of vanilla left in the bottom. With a thumbs up from Celia I figured I’d likely not get an opportunity like this again, so I enjoyed the rest of the ice cream throughout the next scene. What a treat! We laughed about it all through dinner! We loved getting to be trees in the Forrest, waves in the sea, and a lush meadow fit for a wedding. If you love to feel like a part of the show, you’ll love this production!

Aside from the setting, Jillian Keiley made another fascinating choice which I really enjoyed seeing played out: the Duke and Jaques were both women in this production. It was a very interesting contrast to the usually male dominated sphere of the Forrest. The Duchess Senior (Brigit Wilson) is surrounded by her people, and is therefore more safe than Rosalind and Celia would be on their own. But Jaques’ character is even more layered in this production, and made her even more interesting.

Jaques was portrayed by Seana McKenna, who outdid herself once again with this role. Hearing her say one of the most famous speeches in the Shakespearean Cannon (“All the world’s a stage…”) was even better than I had imagined. What fascinated me most was Jaques’ position as a voyeur, and how that was manifested in this play. It is frequently mentioned how melancholy Jaques watches the world go by, commenting on things as (s)he goes, however in this production, the voyeurism goes to the extent of Jaques having cameras and notepads, ways of recording what (s)he sees. The notion that (s)he was, in the court at least, some kind of reporter makes total sense, and also explains some of the melancholy that (s)he finds in the world. It was brilliant!

These are truly just some of the highlights of what will always be a memorable show to me. The whole thing created such a perfect image of what this play can do, and where Shakespeare’s words can take us, it’s well worth seeing. Bring the family and go on a theatrical adventure! I truly can’t recommend this show enough! For ticket information, visit http://www.stratfordfestival.ca

Stratford Festival’s “Pericles” and Director’s Day 2015

I was so excited to get to see a play by Shakespeare which I had absolutely no previous connection to whatsoever. This is such a rare occurrence for me, that when it does happen, it’s lovely to take advantage of. So I knew next to nothing going into the play, other than that Pericles was one of the most complex plots I had heard of. I was absolutely blown away with what director Scott Wentworth did with the piece.

How we got to experience this play was wonderfully unique and something that I hope to do again. We got to take part in what is called Director’s Day, where we have a pre-show chat (and lunch!) with the director, then we see the show (or you can see another one) and then you come back for a Q&A and dinner! The way the day is organized is beyond awesome, and they certainly have the whole thing down to a science. But to hear about the play from Mr. Wentworth himself was wonderful, as he was able to give us enough of an idea about what we were going to see that we could understand what he wanted to accomplish, but he certainly didn’t spoil anything for us either. And to get to hear his thoughts about directing and what it means to be a director was really inspiring for me as I was just embarking on my first directorial venture.

When I first saw that the play was set in the Victorian period, I was a little hesitant and didn’t really understand, but then I thought about the ideas of expansion and colonialism and thought, ok. But then to hear Mr. Wentworth talk about it, about the taboo subjects that the Victorians appalled but Shakespeare could talk about, and how he wanted to see “what they were so afraid of,” it made it even more enjoyable. And yet the play just seemed to feel right, and not just because of what I had heard beforehand, it just suited the out of this world plotline and wonderful characters.

The costumes and sets for this play were beautiful, and allowed for the audience to be transported to the various locations that Shakespeare requires. The set especially was beautiful for the scenes at the abbey, where the walls were filled with lit candles. It was mesmerizing and yet didn’t detract from the scene. What was even more amazing was when the rest of the cast came out to act out the shipwreck and removed Pericles’ clothes and passed around his boat. To watch them move as a single unit and become what is so hard to depict was awesome, and one of the moments that still stands out in my mind.

The role doubling for each adventure Pericles embarks on was rather amazing, and forced us to draw the parallels that Mr. Wentworth wanted us to. Wayne Best certainly went through the most drastic changes between roles, and that made it all the more incredible to witness. And while it seems like that would be confusing, it somehow flowed so well that I never felt confused. The plot seemed so linear despite it having a rather circular pattern to the plot.

Mr. Wentworth’s focus on the female characters of the play was really refreshing and certainly came through in his choices. By having a woman, who turns out to be Pericles’ wife, narrate the play as the goddess Diana instead of Gower was inspiring, and added an energy that wouldn’t otherwise be afforded this text. It really turned our attention to the women in Pericles’ life and how his choices affected them as well. The reunion of Pericles and Marina actually had me in tears, and while it was sort of the penultimate reunion, it certainly was the one with the most emotion behind it.

The other highlighted element was the music, which I truly loved. The fact that it was based on a poem and written by Mr. Wentworth’s wife was just delightful, and added this mystical element to the show. Music has this ability to tie all of the ideas of the play together, and create this familiar and unifying element that even aided in the emotional reunion of Pericles and Marina. It was totally unexpected and yet felt completely organic within the play itself.

This is all apart from the incredible acting in this production. This text is not easy, nor is having to play multiple roles throughout the production, and yet it was handled flawlessly. Evan Buliung was amazing as Pericles, and was supported by Debora Hay, Wayne Best and many more in a stellar cast. I cannot wait for the movie version of this production to come out. To have the ability to relive it over and over is thrilling!!

Stratford Festival’s “The Taming of the Shrew”

I was so happy to be back in Stratford again this summer! The Taming of the Shrew holds such a special place in my heart because it was the first Shakespearean show I ever saw, and my first Shakespearean show at the Festival, way back in 2003 and so was one of the reasons that I set my life on a theatrical path. To get to see the show again, as my first performance of the 2015 season, and done in such a beautiful manner was fabulous; I so thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing from start to finish.

One of the things that I loved right off the bat was that the used the frame narrative that is included in the play, and yet is so often disregarded. And of course, in true Chris Abraham fashion (He’s the director, and one I adore), there was an even outer frame that began the moment we came in and made the frame within the play itself easier to understand. It was so lovely to have the actors breaking the fourth wall before the show and coming around to talk to us. From there, one of the actors played a disruptive audience member, who then becomes the drunkard that the ‘actors’ convince into being their lord and for whom they present the play. It was all so brilliantly done, and made the little scholar in me so happy!

In the outermost frame, where the actual actors were breaking the fourth wall, Tom Rooney gave a little speech about gender and disguise and how they work in this play. I was very happy that they made a point of this for two reasons: 1) it plays into what the next frame deals with and then the subject matter of the play itself, 2) It hearkens back to the way the play would have originally been done, with boys dressed as girls, and this of course also affects Kate’s final speech, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The whole play was done very traditionally, which I certainly appreciate. The stage even looked like the Globe Theatre with its giant red pillars and square thrust stage. The costuming was also very traditional with beautiful ruffs and gorgeous gowns for the ladies. One of the elements I loved the most was the musicians live on stage. They were such a fun element of the play, and completed the traditional feel. It was like they had their own little part in the play, made their own comments through their music, and really were another element of comic relief. I thought it was simply delightful!

Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay played Petruchio and Katarina, and they were both experts at their roles. Deborah was a fierce, forceful and frightening Kate, while Ben’s Petruchio was tough, tempering and (at times) terrible. They were a perfect match. Having seen Deborah play the demure Bianca, it was amazing to watch her be so vicious playing Kate. The two of them were so physical, and that added a whole different element to their relationship, and yet made the taming all the more noticeable. The fact that the two of them are married in real life just added another level to the story that was so rife with frames and layers.

These two were equally matched by the rest of their cast, who performed wonderfully. The whole thing was a joy to watch from start to finish, and that always has to do with the cast as a whole. They brought such life and vivacity to the play, and I didn’t feel like a single person was miscast. It was truly a great deal of fun to experience.

Last, but not at all least, I’d like to talk about Katarina’s final speech. There’s always a great deal of criticism about it because to a modern audience it sounds so patriarchal. And yet I felt like this production handled it in an excellent way. It seemed to me that Kate believed what she was saying wholeheartedly, which I do really like because then the transformation that Petruchio has made, but also that she has made for herself is complete and therefore the ending can be a happy one. During her lessons to the other wives, Kate does make it clear that while you should obey your husband, he should be worthy of the obedience, and while they mere fact that she says to obey them is patriarchal, there is the element of choice, which ads a flair of feminism. But for me, it was the final moments, where she held out her hand to Petruchio, and just before she lets her hand fall, he rushes up to take it. I felt like in that moment, the two of them agreed that their lives were a partnership, and that she isn’t his servant; that as long as she will be faithful to him, so will he to her. While it was only a gesture, and I can’t know if it was meant to have that meaning I endowed in it, but I felt like it was a really great way to deal with what can otherwise be an antiquated and demeaning speech for women.

It’s amazing to get to see a play that you saw when you were much younger. It’s a great way to see how much you’ve grown and how your attitudes have changed and how much more you know. I can’t wait to see what I’ll think of it in another 12 years!


The Taming of the Shrew runs into October! For tickets you can follow the link here: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=29356&prodid=57753

Shakespeare in Community – “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time” – Final Project – Hamlet 3.1

For my final project for this course, I decided to do an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, Hamlet. I chose the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy for many reasons, one of them being that it is a soliloquy I had taken upon myself to learn a few months ago. With it being one of the most recognizable soliloquys in the cannon, I thought I should probably know it in full. However, choosing to recite this soliloquy for this project opened my mind to the myriad of possibilities that there are with this play, and how my adaptation fits into the current conversation around Shakespeare in both the scholarly sphere and what has been discussed in this class.

First, I want to talk a bit about the soliloquy itself, why it speaks to me and then I’ll move into my adaptation. As I began to learn this soliloquy I found that I really needed to dig into the language and look at each word on its own to really have it sink into my memory. But what was more than that was that I found a way into the soliloquy that I hadn’t before. I used to be very content with the high school answer of “Hamlet’s contemplating suicide” but the more I read it, the more I spoke the words myself and really made myself feel those words, I realized just how much more than that is really going on. Hamlet isn’t just contemplating suicide for himself, rather the concept of suicide as a whole, and even the larger concept of death, and how humanity views those things. I think that part of Hamlet’s frustration isn’t so much that he thinks he shouldn’t commit suicide, but that he realizes that he can’t just like how most of us can’t. And he discovers in his musings one of the deepest truths of humanity: you don’t know with any sense of certainty what happens after you die. It is truly “[t]he undiscovered country from whose bourn/no traveller returns.” There’s that inherent fear in dying, one that most people have, because of this lack of certainty. And I think that’s where Hamlet gets the ideas for the next lines as well, that because we don’t know what’s going to happen, we get scared, and so we don’t do anything about our rotten lives, and even when we could, we don’t. We also get a fabulous glimpse into his mind in the list of injustices that Hamlet thinks are unbearable or cause for deep unhappiness. Thinks like “the insolence of office” or “the law’s delay” or “the pangs of despised love” give us a good indication of the things that are going on in Hamlet’s life, things that we know are going on, but that we see how heavily they are all weighing on Hamlet. Hamlet is trying to work through the issues in his life pretty much on his own, and being a man of logic doesn’t seem to be helping him much either. I would argue that while this is one of the most logical arguments of the play, it’s also one of Hamlet’s most emotional soliloquys.

Part of the reason this soliloquy means so much to me is because two years ago one of my dearest friends committed suicide. It was shocking and heartbreaking and awful. And yet in learning this soliloquy I realized how Shakespeare had so perfectly put into words all the thoughts and emotions that I was going through trying to deal with this loss so perfectly into one soliloquy. In performing it, I really felt a connection to the words, especially the lines “and by a sleep to say we end/The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to; ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” I feel like part of what these lines are saying is how hard it is for the people left behind as well as the people who have passed, and unfortunately I am all too familiar with how that feels.

Now I’d like to discuss the particular choices I made in my adaptation of this soliloquy. I think that having a female Hamlet is a totally viable option, and opens the door to many interpretations of the play. In terms of the macro level of the play itself, I think that by having Hamlet and Ophelia be childhood friends rather than lovers fills the void that many scholars point out of a lack of female homo social relationships in Shakespeare. Losing a good friend can be just as devastating as breaking up with a lover, and the box of remembrances that Ophelia has from Hamlet could just as easily be notes and gifts and things that one friend would give another. It shows how many kinds of love there are, and that friendship fits into that world as well. Having to change he/his/him to she/hers/her wouldn’t be a huge issue, as it doesn’t disturb the iambic pentameter, however changing prince to princess does. So I think I would leave it as price, and make it a tribute to Queen Elizabeth I who had the heart and stomach of a king. I think that Hamlet would need to demand the same respect as Elizabeth I had to. I think it makes Claudius’ ability to take the kingdom right out from under her a lot more understandable as well.

In terms of the filming itself and my choices there, I wanted to film it in the hallway because hallways are such liminal spaces and therefore it’s easy to be overheard as Hamlet is. I made sure to leave the end door open a crack, to imply that Claudius and Polonius are listening just beyond it, yet Hamlet is so distracted that she doesn’t even see it. While Hamlet’s dress was black, I wanted to make sure that she also had something on overtop to represent the cloak that Hamlet and Gertrude talk about at the beginning of the play, but the stripes also imply the seeming madness that is to come. I wanted it to be a private moment that Hamlet is having, totally unaware of the potential for other people to hear her.

I truly enjoyed performing this soliloquy, and would love to have the opportunity to perform it again. I think that this play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous for a reason; it deals with so many elements of life and human nature, the moments of truth are frequent deep and profound, and Hamlet is easy to connect with if we put ourselves in his shoes. I’m looking forward to experiencing this play again this summer, and hopefully many more times in the future.