The Shaw Festival continues into November

Picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake offers world-class
theatre, wine tours, and fine dining

Thankfully, summer’s end doesn’t hail the end of our Summer Theatre Festivals.

A weekend trip to a friendly town to take in British Teas, gentle walks and perhaps, too, enjoy some characters created in the imaginations of some of the most versatile and brilliant playwrights of the past, might just be in order.

Nestled in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake is The Shaw Festival. It continues through to the end of November with some provocative, entertaining and heart warming productions, all of which are written by playwrights that wrote in the same era as George Bernard Shaw. Including – of course, those written by Shaw himself.

With four theatres to work with; The Festival Theatre, The Studio, The Royal George Theatre and The Court House Theatre, there is something to tempt everyone.

In my view, the Festival Theatre is one of the most beautiful, warm and welcoming theatres in Canada – and the acoustics are excellent. If you have never taken in any Shavian productions, now is the time to do so. Especially if you are one who is more inclined to take vacations when it is quiet and the seasonal tourist rush is over. And most especially if you wish to see top notch productions based on the works of Shaw.

He was a prolific playwright of over 60 plays. Most of his works are concerned with the prevailing social problems of his time, but with a wonderful spark of comedy to which the public can relax and relate. It also serves to tone down the seriousness of the topic: Marriage, religion, government, health care and especially class privilege. Shaw took it all on with great gusto.

Remembering that the Festival includes other playwrights from the Shavian era, it is no surprise that powers-that-be snatched up the rights to Mary Chase’s Harvey when they became available recently. And this is some Bunny to love – believe me, it’s hilariously funny but at the same time attacks the premise that everyone should be like everyone else. What exactly is this norm; and if one doesn’t fall into someone else’s interpretation of normal, then what is to be done with said person. The play is a feel-good, end-the-evening-walking-on-air production. Not until later on do you realize the seriousness and social implications the playwright has left us to mull over. Harvey runs (or should I say hops?) until November 14.

Oddly, both our summer Festivals are doing plays by J.M. Barrie – Shaw is presenting a 30 minute show in The Royal George Theatre called Half an Hour. Good things come in small packages and this apparently applies to plays, too. A woman has just half-an-hour to get herself removed from a terrible dilemma when she takes it upon herself to leave her loveless marriage to a successful businessman. All that in just 30 minutes. (Others should be so lucky.) It runs until October 9.

You might call The Women by Clare Luce Booth, the Sex and the City of its time. (Only with much more interesting characters! N’uf said.) One of my favourite plays, it aptly focus on a group of Manhattan socialites, one of whom has discovered that her husband is having an affair. They delve into acidic gossip; they interfere, have lunch together and do some more gossiping. The lives of pampered and wealthy women have never been better dissected than by the writings of Booth. (The original play done on Broadway in 1936 featured Marjorie Main as one of the all female cast – you’ll perhaps remember her as Ma Kettle.) That’s correct boys, ‘all female’, so be prepared. Men and relationships are the focus and are discussed throughout the play. In other words, they are heard of but never seen. The Women is on at The Festival theatre until October 9.

Now to the works of the man for whom the Festival is named – John Bull’s Other Island. My mother, born and brought up in Ireland, used to say that “growing up in Ireland during The Troubles required a grand sense of humour”. It appears that she and Shaw were of the same mind. Born in Ireland, this is the only one of his works in which he returns to the country of his birth – and he does so with comedy. The play touches on ‘the Irish Troubles’ of the era and was attended by many British politicians when it premiered in England. Found to be so funny, King Edward 11, in hysterics, actually broke his chair. Imagine: Doyle, an Irishman who turns his back on his fellow countrymen in favour of the British; his business partner, Broadbent, an Englishman who is taken in by the idyllic beauty of Ireland; a woman who was meant to marry Doyle but ends up with Broadbent; and throw in a defrocked priest for good measure. John Bulls’ Other Island continues until October 9.

The Doctor’s Dilemma was written by Shaw in 1906. A doctor has found a cure for tuberculosis but only has one dose. Does he give it to a most un-likable artist or a kind-hearted but poor medical colleague? Did I mention that the artist has a rather lovely wife to whom the doctor is attracted? An attack on the medical system. (It is believed to be based on the story of an ENT specialist in London, who removed the uvula of patients at great financial gain to himself but of no use to the patient.) This is just one of the many plays in which Shaw set upon the social system. It certainly stands the test of time, as in our present society many tests and cures are available only to those who can afford them. The Doctor’s Dilemma is on at The Festival Theatre until October 30.

Pshaw! – Shaw’s the stage this summer and fall.

Travel Planner

For more information, please call toll free: 1-800-511-SHAW (7429) or visit: VIA Rail has train service from Montreal to Niagara-on-the-Lake: