A Summer of Shakespeare

First up on the Shakespeare menu – the ubiquitous “Dream on High Park”, Canadian Stage’s production of ” A Midsummer Night’s” dream.
Expectations were diminished as soon as we arrived as the permanent stage had undergone significant structural alterations – I.e. there was no structure, just a stage platform bordered by faux hedging.
But it was a gorgeous summer’s evening sweltering tropical cloying heat but with a significant breeze. We started with coffee at The Grenadier cafe, strolled over to the outdoor theatre – “paying what we could” at the “gate”.
We had our plaid blanket; we had crusty bread, olives; humus; cheeses; celery; crackers, pineapple and lemon cake and ahem sports bottles filled with a feisty beverage – wouldn’t catch us drinking alcohol outside in Canada (illegal in Canada)
We wolfed that lot down whilst observing and listening in to all around us; coated ourselves in “deet” before the scheduled 9.30pm arrival of man-eating mosquitoes.
Bagpipes in the distance – A handful of “stage-hands” arrive and begin unrolling the one piece of scenery – a stereotypical view of a wooden pier jutting into an endless “cottage country” lake; a carpet of grass is laid; a Canadian Mountie appears, and actors hidden amidst the audience start to emerge onto the stage at the celebrity-styled announcement of wedding was being “publicized” heralding the start of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
This is probably the most original interpretation of this play that I have yet to see, and I’ve seen a few in my time – couple pf them being truly authentic versions at the “London’s Globe Theatre – a faithful replica of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre sited on the South Bank of the River Thames and within feet of the original.
The Canadian stage actors brought Shakespeare’s language to life and despite the modern garb and Canadian references, even the youngest child would have understood the nuances of this play. The two female leads were both passionate and comedic; the play within the play was “Shakespeare bawdy” with a sexual innuendo that effortlessly spanned the 400 years between now and when it was written – Second City eat your heart out!!
So good was this that I have been three times already. Sitting amidst the trees, watching this play; fairy-lit borders; the stage spot-lights picking out fleeting spectres of bats and moths; the shrill crescendo of the summer cicadas and the otherwise absolute hush amongst the audience as the play draws to an end – One might be mistaken for thinking it doesn’t get any better than this – no but the quality has been consistent across all the Shakespeare seen so far this summer.
Next Stop, The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Ontario a 90 minute (on a good day) drive north-west of Toronto in glorious pastoral countryside; rich farmland; Mennonite farmsteads and the typical Canadian grain-silo scenery. Stopping off in the hamlet of “Shakespeare” along the way for a cuppa and a browse amidst the clutch of antique and bric-a-brac shops. Check-in to the Edwardian elegance of the “River Garden Hotel” right in the banks of the River Avon – all muted taupes and caramel, squeaky floorboards, antiques and “lose sight of your feet” deep-pile carpet; Oh and a wonderful “secret garden” on the river, all weeping willows, solar lights and twisted paths down to the water’s edge.
As this blog is about Shakespeare I will only make a passing reference to the fantastic fun that was Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates” – if you get a chance this season (till October), treat yourself to this show.
On the Sunday we went to a matinĂ©e performance – at the huge Festival Theatre – of the very heavyweight Henry V – wow – I was not expecting such a powerful, forceful and atmospheric performance – again with minimum props and the whole cast seamlessly manipulating all the equipment needed for each scene.
The final course in the Shakespeare feast was “Macbeth” at Casa Loma. The original plan was for the “set” to be located in the compact but beautiful grounds, backdropped by the broody presence of Toronto’s faux gothic castle. However the threat of one of our severe summer storms sent the whole production inside into the Castle’s vaulted Great Hall. The the stage set was multi-use minimal with only 7 cast members effortlessly moving around props and playing several characters. This is the first time I’ve seen this since studying the play for A’level at school but the exam- induced familiarity with the script came flooding back as soon as the three witches opened with the famous prediction upon which the while play hinges!
Atmosphere-wise, this particular setting within a gothic castle lent itself beautifully to the dark and dour Tragedy that is Macbeth, a snapshot of lives (and a country) wrecked by ambition and greed. A small intimate setting, the actors almost amongst the audience and with the balustraded second floor adding extra dimension to the stage, in that the famous prophecies called forth by the witches were delivered from the dimly illuminated archways looking out into the hall.
The many soliloquies by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were delivered with exactly the right amount of angst and intense emotion. No gratuitous over-performance; each role was executed with integrity by every cast member of The Humber River Shakespeare company – www.humberrivershakespeare.ca – who “roadshow” Macbeth throughout the GTA for the summer. Another superbly executed Shakespeare production
Worth watching their website for info on their year-round performances including their annual Christmas performance of a Christmas Carol.
I am amazed at the incredible quality of all the productions I have seen in this city so far. Every time I see a performance I think that one’s “sets the bar” but I go see another production and again I am floored by the fabulous interpretation and performances of all involved.
Just heard that the Classical Theatre Project will be performing their hilarious “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” at Casa Loma in August – contact 416 915 6750 for info and tickets
And Shakespeare in the Ruff will be ahowcasing their annual Withrow Park outdoor season – this summer Two Gentlemen if Verona“ – fromy 16 August
Over and Out

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