Back to the Shaw Festival

Tuesday, Sep. 4, 2012

Two years ago, in an effort to recover quickly from a move into a new house in town, Joan and I made a jaunt up to Ontario to see some fine theatre:  In Stratford, The Tempest, with an old hero of mine, Christopher Plummer, and Jacques Brel is Alive & Well & Living in Paris.  … And in Niagara-on-the-Lake, at the George Bernard Shaw Festival, that old nugget Harvey, which has just enjoyed a New York revival run, and Shaw’s rarely seen John Bull’s Other Island.  Somehow, in the throes of moving and unpacking, I never got around to journaling them, and I didn’t start blogging until the following December.  So I hereby record that we loved all four, and that Plummer was in peak form as Prospero.  Should anyone be interested, a DVD of that production is now available.

The Stratford experience is of course well documented.  We had been there before, and the trip was no disappointment.  But the little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was brand new to us, as was the Shaw Festival, which is currently in its fiftieth year.  It’s much more modest and low-key, and there are not the huge crowds of tourists there that flock to Stratford, or to Niagara Falls, less than 15 miles away upstream.  There is less hustle, and somehow the theatre-goers seem more interested in theatre than in show.  What’s more, located on the shores of Lake Ontario and just across from Fort Niagara in the U.S., the area, the “Niagara Escarpment,” has its own unique weather pattern, making it Canada’s prime wine-growing district. The immediate vicinity alone is packed with 28 award-winning wineries, a host of charming B&B’s, and four festival theatre venues.



Tbe Brockamour Manor, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Plenty to do here.  In addition to the Falls, of which we did the requisite tour aboard the wonderful Maid of the Mist in 2010, the place is rich in history, and in 1905 my Dad, fourteen and half Canadian, went to school in nearby St. Catharines.   But this year we were more than ready for a quieter respite, and we’re focusing on seeing some good theatre and catching up on rest and writing.  We flew up to Buffalo, rented a car to avoid the hassle of airport customs, sauntered north along the river, and settled into Niagara-on-the-Lake at the Brockamour.  We’ve lined up four plays: Hedda Gabler, Ragtime, A Man and Some Women, and Shaw’s own Misalliance.  But for tonight, the theatre is closed, so we’re comfortably settled in over the N. Y. Times, some really good wine and cheese, and pretty much sans the hullabaloo of the Democratic Convention — much as we love them all.

BY THE WAY, I see in the Times today that War Horse will close in New York after January 6.   (See my blog of April 9, 2011.)  Fair warning!  If you’re anywhere near it, don’t miss out on seeing this brilliant piece of theatre.  There will be other opportunities, of course.  A touring production is coming to the Washington’s Kennedy Center on October 23, and to many other U.S. Cities in the coming year.  I can only hope it will have the impact and approach the quality of the National Theatre’s original London and New York productions.   After seeing recent touring productions of Billy Elliot and La Cage aux Folles at the Kennedy Center, I confess to being just a bit skeptical.  Still, War Horse wherever you can find it, is a not-to-be-missed, lump-in-the-throat experience.

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