On Friday I pointed my car north and started driving. It’s not quite as aimless as that. I knew where I wanted my car to go: Stratford, Ontario. My bff was kind enough to join me for my latest Shakespearean endeavor, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
Now, for a festival named after the bard, I kind of hoped for more of his actual plays. Of the 14 plays running from April thru November, only 3 are actually Shakespeare’s plays. Now, they are also running West Side Story, which is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet (very loosely). Plus they have Bartholomew Fair by Ben Johnson which does closely examine the London that Johnson and Shakespeare lived in.
Stratford itself is an amazingly charming town. There are lots of little shops with one of a kind items. In the last two days I’ve tried on trendy clothes, eaten at an organic restaurant (which uses locally grown products), visited two chocolate shops and bought a fuzzy microbe for my hubby. I also met and was waited on by several actual store owners whose inventories feature jewelry, clothes, and artwork from local artists.
As for the actual plays, my first one was Macbeth. I’d never seen Macbeth performed before, so I was really excited. The owner at the Rabbit Hole* told us that there had been mixed reviews. As soon as I picked up the program, I realized why, the play was set in a modern day fictional African country. Now, I am not a purist. I don’t demand my Shakespeare be set in the 1500’s. From the wispers before the show, I got the distinct impression many people were not at all happy that it was modernized.
The set was great. Not too ostentatious, but it still had great ambiance. Personally, I think that modern day Africa is a good setting for a play about a war torn country where members of the army are plotting the death of the ruler. Considering the strife in modern day Africa, it’s a great setting. Plus, the play started with flash pot explosions. Also really cool. The staging was also well done. Banquo’s haunting of MacBeth was powerful. Somehow they managed to distract me so well with all the action that I didn’t even notice Banquo join the feast. I also didn’t notice him leave. The second time around I paid a bit more attention. This time I saw him come up from the trap door, but I really had to focus because a servant obstructed the view.
Banquo’s death scene was also great. He gets murdered, then all goes dark. More gunshots are heard and seconds later, the lights are back up and there is a dinning room with most of the cast on stage waiting. There was no trace of the former death scene.
Aside from some great set pieces and staging, I was not a fan of the actual play. Granted, I was pretty tired after a 7 hour car ride and a two hour walk around town, but I just thought the show lacked passion. Colm Feore just didn’t move me as Macbeth. Neither did Yanna McIntosh as Lady Macbeth. In fact, the only characters I found powerful were Banquo, Macduff, Lady Macduff and their son. Everyone else was fine, just nothing exciting. I found myself waiting for the show to be over, and I was relieved when it was.
I was also more than a little nervous because Colm Feore was also playing Cyranno in our next pay. I prayed he would make a better lover than a fighter. Turns out he did.
Cyranno was really well done. It was funny, it was a little bawdy and at the same time tragic. Colm Feore was meant to play a character with a sense or humor. Aside from still using a lot of French (which I don’t speak at all), I really enjoyed the play. The costumes were lovely. The setting was simple, but elegant. I particularly loved the scene where Cyranno thinks he’s going to confess his love to Roxane in the bakery. The cast brought out lots of amazing looking treats and really seemed to be enjoying themselves.
I was a little worried about Christian’s performance. It started a little rocky, but his comedic timing picked up and really made the show.
Julius Caesar was pretty good. I thought it got off to a slightly slow start. The beginning was very uproarious. It was a festival setting and everyone was reveling and having fun. The program had me a little worried. Once again I saw what looked like futuristic costuming. I was a bit relieved when most of them showed up in fairly formal (if not period) pieces. Some of the costuming was a little odd. While it was definitely timeless, it was an awkward mix of formal and very casual. Still, it wasn’t too distracting.
The first act was a bit slow, but when Ceasar and Calphurnia discuss him not going to the capitol for fear of her bad dreams, I thought it really picked up. Ceasar’s death was great, exactly as I’d imagined it all those years teaching the play. Antony’s “Friends, Romans and countrymen” speech was also captivating. The staging of it was really well done. Antony was alone on stage speaking from a platform, but the townspeople were spread throughout the audience, including two who happened to be standing up in the balcony right next to us (one on the railing). They commented and reacted to Antony’s (and Brutus’) speech. They let out passionate yells and exclamations. In short, they added life to the show. The murder of Cinna the poet in the next scene was also great. He wandered in the semi-dark as townspeople crept in from behind walls and pillars, surprising him and eventually mobing him. Eerie and effective.
Aside from the costumes, my only real complaint was that it seemed a little silly for them to be fighting (and dying) using “swords” when what the actors actually had were small daggers. I get it in Ceasar’s death scene. They needed to be small and concealed. But when Brutus runs on his own “sword” and it’s a tiny dagger, it does make it a bit laughable.
Overall, I thought the shows were entertaining. It made me a little sad that my favorite show was not one of the bard’s, but it was a great experience. I could definitely see myself returning to Stratfod in years to come.
*The Rabbit Hole is a funky artsy store where Eee got the cutest panda hoody. I got an adorable hand painted wooden necklace. The store is new and if you have time, check it out online. The owner is sweet!