shaw Festival 2017

The Shaw Festival serves up a defanged Dracula

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — You know there’s something wrong with the trendy 1985 version of Dracula currently available at the Shaw Festival when you quickly start yearning for the old Hamilton Deane-John Balderston stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s celebrated vampire shocker.

To be sure the latter is somewhat creaky and happy to indulge in old-fashioned melodramatics. But it can still have a potent impact on stage and was still scaring the daylights out of playgoers in a 1977 Broadway revival starring Frank Langella. (more…)

The Shaw Festival triumphs with Middletown

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Middletown, Photo: James Cooper

Middletown. Photo:David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —  We seem to be entering a somewhat skewed universe when we attend the Shaw Festival’s production of American dramatist Will Eno’s Middletown.

For example, what’s with the conflicted town cop, played by Benedict Campbell, brutally throttling a mouthy good-for-nothing, played by Jeff Meadows, and commanding him to acknowledge the wonder and awe of life’s mystery? (more…)

The Shaw Festival’s Dancing At Lughnasa offers outstanding acting

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

dancing1297967349749_ORIGINAL

Photo. David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — There’s Fiona Byrne, poignantly convincing as Kate, the oldest of the sisters and a bundle of laced-in repression. She’s a school teacher, painfully aware of being the only real wage-earner of the household at a time of gathering economic travail, devout in her Roman Catholic faith, and fiercely devoted in her own humourless way to her family.

There is Serena Parmar, a mixture of resilience and vulnerability as Chris, the youngest of the sisters. She’s the mother of seven-year-old Michael and unemployed — her life on hold because of Michael’s vagabond father, Gerry, who is more absent than present in their lives.

And then we have two particularly close sisters  who earn a bit of money by knitting gloves at home and selling them: the quiet and reflective Agnes, whose silences, in Claire Jullien’s intricately embroidered performance, tell their own tale. Agnes in her own way is the chief carer for Rose, the sister who has never really grown up: she’s portrayed by Diana Donnelly with a joyous, child-like innocence that also leaves you aware of her emotional fragility.

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The Shaw Festival delivers a riotous Androcles and the Lion.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Androcles1297967606191_ORIGINAL

Photo: David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — The other night Tom Pidgeon, the Ottawa Little Theatre’s longtime technical director, made a memorable contribution to the Shaw Festival’s riotous production of Androcles And The Lion.

He ended up on the stage of the venerable Court House Theatre — playing the lion.

Pidgeon happened to be in the audience that evening, and had been plucked from its midst, equipped with a scrofulous wig and bedraggled tail, and assigned the task of delivering assorted roars, growls and moans until actor Patrick Galligan, in the role of the kindly Christian tailor, Androcles, removed a painful thorn from the creature’s paw.

The motley magnificence of Pidgeon’s effort earned an appreciative burst of applause before he was allowed to return to his seat and become a member of the audience again. But not an invisible member of that audience — no one in the house really was.

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The Shaw Festival opens with an outstanding Saint Joan

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Critic Kenneth Tynan once observed that Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan was the first work to show the beginnings of the playwright’s senility.

Tynan reveled in this kind of attention-grabbing judgment. But on this occasion, it could also be seen as a diversionary tactic to quell the discomfort Tynan himself might well be feeling over the readiness of Shaw to take a serious look at matters spiritual in this play. And Tynan — like Shaw, a non-believer — ultimately did yield to its strange power. After hammering the play and dismissing Joan of Arc as “a divinely illuminated simpleton,” Tynan went on to confess that he was moved to tears by the conclusion of the performance he was reviewing. (more…)

The Shaw Festival ventures into Canadian history with 1837

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —  There’s a certain fascination in the experience of sitting in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic Court House and watching an adroit company of Shaw Festival actors relive events that actually happened in the vicinity 180 years ago.

But it was also intriguing to note the scowls on the faces of some board heavyweights the other afternoon when 1837: The Farmers Revolt landed firmly — even defiantly — on the Court House Theatre stage. This festival constitutes a curious anomaly in the theatrical world: The playwright who gave the festival its name was an unrepentant Socialist, yet its destiny rests in the hands of a board of impeccable Establishment credentials. (more…)

Me And My Girl: a winner for the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — The Shaw Festival’s main stage was alive with joy and laughter the other night thanks to a sterling revival of an 80-year-old British musical that brought a capacity audience to its feet at the close and clamoring for more

Me And My Girl, which has to do with a chirpy Cockney lad who inherits a title, a place in the House of Lords, and a vast fortune, may seem no more like a piece of piffle at first glance. But it’s catnip for the Downton Abbey crowd. Furthermore, when done with the inventiveness and energy shown by the Shaw in this superb production, its high spirits prove infectious. (more…)

Actor Tom McCamus in the Shaw Festival’s Madness Of George lll

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Rumors are afloat that the new regime at the Shaw Festival plans to move even further away from this illustrious theatre’s central mandate of honoring the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.

That could be a risky proposition — depriving the festival of its distinctiveness and uniqueness within the international theatre community. On the other hand, that hallowed mandate has evolved over the years and already shows more flexibility than anyone might have imagined at the time of the festival’s modest birth more than half a century ago. Furthermore, the debut playbill of its new artistic director, Tim Carroll, features seven items that do, in fact, fulfill the wider mandate reflected in more recent seasons. (more…)

1979: A clear demonstration of the entertainment value of Canadian politics

Reviewed by Iris Winston

1979 by Michael Healey GCTC/Shaw Festival co-production  Directed by Eric Coates

Principles are just part of the equation on the road to success in political life. Also pertinent are viable policies, cunning, surface charm and a willingness to change course, step away from principles, promises and even integrity to stay in power. (The old dictum of the Ins wanting to stay in and the Outs wanting to get in by almost any means has not changed much over the centuries.)

But, to Joe Clark, Canada’s 16th and youngest Prime Minister, principle and integrity were more important than power. Therefore, he remained in the PM’s chair for just nine months. (more…)

Past Reviews