When one thinks of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one thinks of well, Shakespeare - Macbeth, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet - classical theatre - big costumes...ones that I know took months to make - drama. Canada's Shakespeare Festival is the best classical theatre in North America but they have been slowly adding in musicals until this season's musicals and modern plays outnumber The Bard. All may be forgiven when festival showpiece, "Westside Story" is reported in the L.A. Times as far superior to Broadway's.
A few weeks ago Violinist handed me tickets to the musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and told me to choose another show for the same day. Thank you Violinist. xo. Four theatre locations make up the festival, this is the crown jewel, Festival Theatre, looking out over Queen's Park and the Avon River. Dozens of people carrying wicker baskets and little plaid blankets picniced down by the river before the matinee performances, while in a lovely shady area of the park artists displayed their works for purchase - Art in the Park. The Tom Patterson bridge spans the Avon across to a wee island. Patterson is the founder of Stratford's Shakespeare Festival. I'm showing you ducks and geese and swans, o my, because no photos are allowed inside the theatres. I noticed the same thing in the theatre giftshop - lots of pictures of birds. If it's good enough for them, then me too. The Avon River is home to many Canadian geese, mallards and swans. The swans are all micro-chipped and they winter indoors.After looking at the schedule, I choose Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." Both it and "Forum" are playing at the Avon Theatre located downtown in a former vaudeville theatre, beautifully redone a few years ago in preparation for the festival's 5oth birthday celebration. Plays by Shakespeare were unavailable for the time I needed and I was a tad disappointed.
That is until I saw the photos - Macbeth wearing army fatigues - Lady Macbeth dressed in something akin to 1962 cocktail party wear. Army jeeps. It seems they have taken Macbeth out of Scotland and put him into mid 20th century Africa. I'll wait until they put him back into the century and country, where he belongs. Or rename it something else, like the writers of Westside Story did when inspired to update Romeo and Juliet."The Importance of Being Earnest" pokes fun at Victorian upper class society and I really didn't see what the program notes meant about it being relevant for today other than the fact that it is fluff and good entertainment; as funny and appreciated by modern audiences as in 1895. It was a very well done tight performance. I did not like the pointillist sets, though each brought applause when first revealed. Brian Bedford's Lady Bracknell sailed the stage, all moving wide of her wake. Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing matched each other's wits and showed exactly where men's affections lay - food. Gwendolen Fairfax was clean if not a tad over affected. Cecily Cardew seemed a bit old for her purported 18 years but I liked her anyway.
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" was very, very well done. I would not go see it again, however, on account of the ribaldry, something I think could be tamed despite it's obvious plot line - people weren't as enthusiastic after certain scenes. Nevertheless, the non-stop energy and loveableness of Bruce Dow and his character Pseudolus with Hero made a very short evening. Anyone who recalls Laugh-in would see the similarities. Chilina Kennedy played Hero's true love Philia, in a mix of Bernadette Peters and Georgia Engel's Georgette. Forum was a perfectly timed flawless presentation.
And so we spent a lovely day walking about the town of Stratford, Ontario - unpretentious little beauty bereft of any That-Marts. Between shows we lunched on this park bench which you can't see, because I'm sitting on it, looking across at this little monument of which I know nothing since I was relaxed and decided to just watch the flags flutter in the cool air whilst puffy clouds floated by, because it's allowed. A ducky day. It was a ducky day.
(Second last photo by GG.)