“Dream on High Park” – a Play within a play


I can just imagine the exam question:
“If you were to stage a production of the Shakespeare tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”, how would you contrive to set this in a modern-day version of Verona railway station and why?”
Well, the idea of the Canadian Stage TD 2010 production of Romeo and Juliet in High Park is a play within a play, which amongst other things allows for very simple set and costume design, but whilst undoubtedly clever and economic, this ploy somewhat distances us from the point of Shakespeare’s original settings. – Verona (mostly set in an orchard of the Capulets) or Mantua (the home of the Montagues)  – and the geographics/politics of the feuding families. Also missing – for me – were the lush Elizabethan costumes of the period.
The premise of this setting is that a touring production of Romeo and Juliet is delayed at the train station. After members of the company start bickering, in order to keep the peace, the station-master suggests the cast put on an impromptu performance of this familiar tale.
I see…………
Whatever the setting, watching Shakespeare in any open-air situation on a gorgeous summer evening is – for me – one of life’s little treats. And “Dream On High Park” is no exception
Tucked away in a quiet corner of this magnificent Toronto Park, with the trees forming a natural canopy over the stage area, the classic amphitheatre setting is small and intimate (get there early). The stage set, a free-standing structure that remains in-situ all year round, emerges chameleon-like each summer dressed appropriately to host the current season’s Shakespeare production. Oh and by the way you are prohibited from taking any photos of the stage, with or without performers as the stage set is copy protected!
I don’t know why – call me a narrow minded Brit – but maybe because I have been privileged to have seen Shakespeare performed many times both at Stratford upon Avon and The reconstructed Globe theatre in London. (God, I don’t mean to sound so smug), I am always surprised by the consistent high-quality of the Shakespeare productions I have seen in countries other than the UK.  This is our fifth year in a row, and our first “tragedy” and as Romeo & Juliet is NOT my favourite Shakespeare play – shades of studying it to death at school – my expectations were low.
Fortunately the Canadian Stage cast did this production proud. The two lead actors Jeff Irving and Christine Horne, were superb. Christine’s Juliet was (despite her obvious youth) so totally convincing and angst ridden during the tomb scene that I was almost in tears, willing Romeo to come back from the dead, even though I knew full-well that wasn’t going to happen.
Won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of something you likely know backwards. however you might not know that in order to squeeze the most enjoyment out of the evening like this, just a little planning is necessary:
  • Check weather forecast – I have been thunder-stormed out on more than one occasion, Lightning and trees are not ideal “companions” when making a run for it.
  • Car decisions need to be taken. High Park station is on the fringe of the Park so convenient for those near the TTC. Parking is easy and free outside the Grenadier restaurant just opposite the amphitheatre.
  • Need a blanket or tarp to spread out on the grassy tiered seating.
  • Need mosquito spray and something warm to put over shoulders as sun goes down
  • If you are spooked by bats don’t go.
  • And most of all need a lovely Wimbledon style picnic
Dream on High Park; Romeo and Juliet; By William Shakespeare. Directed by Vikki Anderson. At the High Park amphitheatre until Sept. 5. Admission: Pay what you can (suggested minimum $20). Information: 416-367-1652
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