It’s pretty weird for me to be writing about Shakespeare in Prince Edward County. I’ve been going there for years to visit but I never would have considered it a place to see theatre. But along with my own transition into someone who visits the county more than once a year, comes the transition of Festival Players, a staple in county theatre, into a company headed by Stratford’s Graham Abbey. This signals big changes for Festival Players and Prince Edward County.
Romeo and Juliet is the most adapted work in Shakespeare’s canon and continues to be replicated through different mediums time and time again. And for a girl who lives for crazy adaptations of Shakespeare, I was completely and utterly in love with Stratford’s simple, “traditional,” and tragic Romeo and Juliet. Just when you think I’m gonna zig, I’m gonna zag.
It was a beautiful production directed by Scott Wentworth that was clear and emotionally moving and felt incredibly fresh. I put quotations around traditional because, despite its period appearance, the show had a buoyancy and a spirit that lived within the same realm as productions that adapt the show somehow, which made it feel modern. They even threw in some non-Shakespeare lines! The show gave the lead characters (played by Sara Farb and Antoine Yared) and the impact of their deaths respect rather than treating them as silly romantic children. Except when they were acting like children.
In 2017, I have seen four productions of Twelfth Night. And Twelfth Night began as one of my least favourite plays.
The first show I saw was Shakespeare Bash’d’s production at the Monarch Tavern. Then in April I saw the Public Theater’s mobile unit production in New York. Then in June I went to Stratford, ON and saw their production of Twelfth Night. Finally, last night I saw Shakespeare in High Park’s version. Phew.
What I have discovered at the end of my Twelfth Night journey is that I really like some stuff about Twelfth Night. But I’m going to say right away that I am super biased about what I think classifies as a “good” Twelfth Night. So what I am going to do is go through each of the four Twelfth Night productions and think about what I found interesting about each and how I ended up as a girl who sorta likes Twelfth Night (maybe?).
Alistair Newton’s production of King Lear starring Diane D’Aquila begins with two black doors swinging open as her throne moves downstage where she is joined by The Fool. She sits there looking small and groggy. The Fool opens the doors of a music box, resembling the ones onstage, to reveal a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I. As the music continues to play, the stage is bombarded with people to assist Lear getting dressed. Lear hangs there like a rag doll wearing a white nightdress while she is strapped into a corset and an overwhelmingly large black dress reminiscent of the mini Elizabeth. The idea of being trapped in a box or manipulated by others is quite clear.