Shaw Festival 2014

Bernard Shaw’s early comedy, The Philanderer, makes a stunning return to the Shaw festival – reviewed by Jamie Portman.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Cooper. Featuring Marla  McLean and Gord Rand.

NIAGARA-ONTHE-LAKE, Ont. — We’re not really getting full nudity on the stage of the Festival Theatre, but that’s still what the opening moments of The Philanderer manage to suggest.

We’re privy to a couple still in lustful embrace, and they leave us in no doubt about what has just taken place. The man is Leonard Charteris, an accomplished womanizer whose sexual confidence is only matched by his sense of sexual entitlement. The woman is Grace Tranfield, a current conquest and a young widow who has managed to convince herself that the charismatic Leonard is her new soul mate.


The Sea: a beautiful production at Shaw of a strange and beguiling fable that evokes an elusive something; reviewed by Jamie Portman.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Fiona Reid in The Sea. Photo: David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont.  —   Edward Bond’s The Sea is perhaps the most personal play he ever wrote in terms of its relationship to his own life, and it’s certainly his most accessible.
But as the Shaw Festival’s sterling new production of this 41-year-old piece reminds us, it’s also a strange and beguiling fable, set a century ago in an East Anglian seaside village and turning its sights on two favorite Bond preoccupations — class and social disorder.
It can seem discordant in performance. The play can touch you to the heart at one moment — witness the poignancy with which its two young protagonists, beautifully played by Wade Bogert-O’Brien and Julia Course, experience a shared loss from a tragic death and also a shared yearning for escape from a repressive environment. Yet, within the compass of this same play, you’ll encounter a funeral service that degenerates into surrealistic farce.


A Lovely Sunday for Crève Coeur is a curious hybrid that suggests Williams is wrestling with his own demons.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht


Photo. David Cooper. Julain Molnar as Miss Gluck

In the Shaw Festival programme, professor/critic Annette J. Saddik writes that in the 1960’s , after his last complete full length play, Williams was exploring “anti-realistic styles, embracing contradictions (…) shifting between minimalism and excess, the tragic and the comic”. This comment certainly introduces us to A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur where the contradiction is already inscribed in the title of the play. However, I would certainly not define Williams’ earlier work as “realistic” by any means with its strong tendency towards expressionism (Streetcar) and even elements of symbolist drama (Menagerie) that he himself has explained in several of his introductions. Nevertheless the anti-realism is very clear in this work and if  Creve Coeur is noted for its “tragicomic playfulness” by  Saddik,  the play as well as this staging, pinpoint the problems that arise with Williams’ attempts at comedy.


Deborah Hay Triumphs Again At The Shaw Festival: Jamie Portman reviews Williams’ A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: Emily Cooper. Featuring  Deborah Hay and Kate Manning.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — This is the summer when Shaw Festival actress Deborah Hay can do wrong.

She’s been in command of the flagship Festival Theatre stage since April with her brilliant performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. And now, she’s providing some sublime moments in the festival’s problematic lunch-hour production of Tennessee Williams’s neglected one-act play, A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur.

The setting is St. Louis, a city that looms large and traumatically in the playwright’s personal and creative life, and we first meet Dorothea, the character played by Hay, doing calisthenics in the living room. She is another of Williams’s emotionally maimed heroines — not as tragedy-bound as Blanche Dubois, but still vulnerable.


Shaw Festival Scores big with J.B. Priestley’s classic comedy When We Are Married.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Acerbic American critic John Simon once observed that the Shaw Festival probably has the best acting company in the Western Hemisphere.
And the proof is again in evidence with the festival’s uproarious revival of When We Are Married, J.B. Priestley’s 1938 comedy about three Yorkshire couples who make the shattering discovery at their joint Silver Anniversary party that they were never legally wed.
The play is a cunningly executed fusion of character and situation. It is also a probing and at times painfully funny dissection of a particular culture and of a class system that achieves its own unique definition within the West Riding town of Clecklewyke, which is the fictional stand-in for Priestley’s own birthplace of Bradford.


The Charity That Began at Home: A Forgotten Edwardian Comedy That is a Sheer Delight

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Martin Happer as Hugh Verreker and Julia Course as Margery in The Charity that Began at Home. Photo by David Cooper. .

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — One of the happiest aspects of a Shaw Festival summer is an encounter with its latest archaeological discovery.

The people who run this internationally celebrated theatre are serious about its central mandate — to explore the world of Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. And that, happily, has led to the rediscovery of neglected dramatists from the past.

When the festival launched a cycle of remarkable plays by Harley Granville Barker, it enjoyed some of the biggest triumphs of its 50-year history. But in the case of the forgotten St. John Hankin, it was rescuing a superb dramatist from an even deeper obscurity.


Shaw Festival with the Friends of English Theatre…

Reviewed by Jamie Portman




July 4 – 6, 2014


Arms and the Man. Photo by Emily Cooper. 

For reviews of the plays see  (Jamie Portman reviews Arms and the Man)  (Jamie Portman reviews The Charity That Began at Home)  (Jamie Portman reviews Cabaret)


Cabaret at the Shaw Festival: Director Peter Hinton Goes the Phantasmagoric Route For a World that Emerges From the Dying Embers of the Weimar Republic.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Juan Chioran as the Emcee. Photo by David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — You can’t be entirely sure what is happening in the final sombre moments of the Shaw Festival’s production of Cabaret. Indeed, there’s the suggestion that Cliff Bradshaw — the expatriate young American who has come to pursue a writing career in Berlin amidst the dying embers of the Weimar Republic and the rising tide of Nazi Germany — won’t make it home safely. After all, we last see him engulfed in the hellish inferno of designer Michael Gianfrancesco’s skeletal set.

The latter, looking like something lifted out of a Fritz Lang film, is an ominously ambiguous concoction of steps and scaffolding, of blinking lights and yawning voids. It can morph into the infamous Kit-Kat Club — although it’s not really the Kit-Kat Club we have known in previous treatments of this classic musical — or it become Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house — although again it’s doesn’t seem quite right because there’s something fragmented, even intangible, about the way its overlapping worlds are presented to us.


Shaw Festival’s production of Arms and the Man: The 2014 Season Opens with a Winner

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Kate Besworth as Raine Petkoff. Photo by  Emily Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —The Shaw Festival’s latest production of Arms And The Man is definitely pint-sized — a shorter version with at least 30 minutes of its normal running time chopped out.

Purists, who relish the play’s philosophical musings about the absurdities of militarism and the follies of romantic illusion, may well take offence at being short-changed in this way — seeing the 2014 season’s opening show less as an act of streamlining than as an act of dumbing-down: in other words, let’s just laugh and enjoy the liveliness of character and situation — but for heaven’s sake, let’s not be forced to think too hard about what’s really on playwright Bernard Shaw’s mind.

But let’s keep things in perspective. The Shaw Festival may be the only organization in the world dedicated to the theatre of Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, but it’s never been the kind of sacred shrine that treats the master’s works like holy writ. There’s also an important place at Niagara for exploration and experimentation — witness the audacity with which it has revisited Saint Joan over the years — and that’s one of the happiest aspects of the festival’s mandate.


The Mountain Top: Martin Luther King’s last hours are grippingly evoked at the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Kevin Hanchard as Martin Luther King.  Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — We’re in a run-down motel room in Memphis. It’s the night of April 3, 1968, and we’re watching Martin Luther King, a few hours after he has delivered his “we’ve been to the mountaintop” speech and has reaffirmed his vision of the promised land.

It’s also a few hours before he will be assassinated on the motel balcony.

The Shaw Festival’s tiny Studio Theatre provides the venue for its gripping production of Katori Hall’s award-winning play, The Mountaintop, and it helps contribute to a sense of claustrophobia and containment. There’s a startling moment when King, beautifully portrayed by Kevin Hanchard, attempts to leave the room — but when he throws open the door, he finds his way blocked by a monstrous snowdrift. Are we getting a dose here of the magic realism that encircles Hall’s brilliant re-imagining of the events leading up to a real-life tragedy? Perhaps. On the other hand, as Alana Hibbert’s cheerfully resilient chambermaid reminds King, Tennessee is prone to snowfalls, even in April.


Past Reviews