The reason I started this blog was to archive productions of Shakespeare that made me think or inspired exciting thoughts, so when I saw Why Not Theatre’s Prince Hamlet, I knew that I needed to write about it. I have seen four productions of Hamlet in my life so far and many other productions of Shakespeare, but this was by far the best Canadian production of a Shakespeare show I have been seen. The reason that I study theatre and, specifically adapted Shakespeare performances such as this one, is because of the power I believe it has to not only show respect to the original material but to create a more inclusive and diverse theatrical experience. This show did that and it took risks and it is exactly the type of theatre that makes my heart sing. I applaud director Ravi Jain for being such a risk-taker because it was such a breath of fresh air.
As young Mamillius asks his mother to tell him a story, he says that “a sad tale’s best for winter,” but Groundling Theatre Company’s The Winter’s Tale moves through every mood of the play with elegance and thoughtfulness. But within each moment creeps the menacing and destructive power of patriarchy. In the dark Winter Garden Theatre, I sat onstage amidst the other audience members examining the small set and starring into the dark abyss of empty seats in front of us. The show began with the house in the dark and the pseudo-theatre-in-the-round style staging took place onstage creating an intimate environment. Graham Abbey situates the audience within the story by placing us underneath the proscenium arch.
What did I learn while assistant directing? A deceptively simple question.
Now I love Shakespeare but it’s a complicated relationship that is by no means perfect. There are a lot of things about Shakspeare’s plays that I find difficult to deal with. Part of the reason that I enjoy productions where the context is adapted is because it provides some wiggle room about what is highlighted within the play which can create a more diverse and innovative interpretation. Not that I don’t enjoy a good traditional show sometimes too.
So before I had even moved to Toronto and began my MA, I saw that Hart House was putting on a production of Much Ado About Nothing and from the poster I could decipher that it was going to be sets in the 1940s. I had lots of reasons for applying to assistant direct but two of the most prominent were that I wanted to learn directing techniques and I wanted to be a part of the process of working on a Shakespeare show (especially one set in a different time period).
Pericles, Prince of Tyre is not a Shakespearean play that is staged often. It is incredibly complicated with fast location changes and the story passes through decades. It also includes a mixture of plotlines found within other Shakespeare stories such as pirates, reuniting families, bringing back someone thought to be dead … It’s a big melting pot of different plotlines. The complexity of the plot is what makes it a big task to make sense of.
Scott Wentworth was the director for this production titled The Adventures of Pericles. I have seen him act in many plays years over the years from Banquo to Shylock but this was my first time seeing a show he has directed so I was excited. I think the strongest element throughout the show was the double (triple?) casting of Antiochus’ daughter, Thaisa, and Marina. They are all played by the ever charming Deborah Hay who travels through these women’s stories to teach us about their individual strength.
Watching an amazing Shakespearean actor is like the perfect storm coming together. There are so many factors needed in order to truly give an outstanding performance. But when you get that perfect combination then it is really like watching magic happen.
Back in 2015, I missed out on the opportunity to see Stratford’s Taming of the Shrew but on July 31st CBC allowed people like me to see the filmed version. It is a part of their initiative to make arts more available to those who may otherwise be unable to see them in person. This version stars married actors Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson and was directed by Chris Abraham. The Stratford show could be seen as two extremes coming together to meet in the middle. Katherine and Petruchio shed their performed behaviours and find truthfulness in their love.
I recently went to see Shakespeare in High Park’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well (directed by Ted Witzel). I was so excited to see this show because, not only does SiHP put on a fun show, but this is a Shakespeare show that is rarely done. It is a complex, dark comedy and includes an ending that ends ‘well’ but leaves you questioning whether that is good enough. It places you in a world where people have the right and the ability to determine whether you are worthy or not.