Andrew McNee & Jennifer Lines, The Taming of the Shrew (2019) Photo & Image Design: Emily Cooper. (Courtesy Bard on the Beach)
“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.” – Katherine
My never-ending quest as a high school English teacher is to persuade other teachers, often much younger than myself, to read, teach, live Shakespeare with their students. My argument for doing so is always the same; he knew what it meant to be human, not only in his time but through all time. That is why the themes in his plays inspire everything from The Lion King to Game of Thrones (minus season 8. Don’t get me started.).
The Taming of the Shrew is no different even if the perceived controversy of the content raises the ire of some once again. The players at Bard on the Beach have done a masterful job of displaying a story not for controversy’s sake, but to contravene conventions that are prominent in many parts of 21st century society.
The sun is shining for the most part, and that must mean the thespians are out and about ready to put together the various productions of Bard on the Beach, Shakespeare in the Park, Willy in the Parking Lot or Bill under the stars. Okay, those last two I made up, and you might not want to go if someone invites you to them until you’ve checked that they are in fact productions of William Shakespeare, playwright (maybe?), actor and producer.
Here are a few that the Brawlers have either attended in the past, or ones we think you might like.
Bard on the Beach, Vancouver BC
Bard on the Beach is one of my favourites of them all. It’s the first festival I made a point of going to when I lived in Vancouver, and it’s one I’ve seen about 20 or so plays at. The crews out at Vanier Park always do a very good job with their productions and rarely have I left thinking it a bad idea I caught the play.
BOB is also putting on one of the Bard Brawl’s favourite Shakespeare-themed movies in theatre form in Shakespeare in Love, so double dang that I won’t be out west this year.
Look forward to Bard Brawl reviews of as many of these fine plays as we can get a reviewer to the beach for.
Repercussion Theatre, Montreal
Amanda Kellock is directing this year’s set of free Shakespeare in the Park productions of Measure for Measure this year, and the Bard Brawlers will for sure be in on this one.
Repercussion did a great job with gender-bending R&J last year pushing the quality of the play to feature a lesbian love affair between the titular characters, which worked perfectly and was thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m excited they picked M4M to do this year. It’s a great play, and I get all nerd pumped whenever a company does a less well-known play.
Plays start July 11, so find a park near you and go go go.
Canadian Stage, Shakespeare in High Park, Toronto
If Raptors fans ever come down from their collective high and decide they want to do something with their summer aside from sitting in Jurassic Park crying with joy, check out a couple of gems from the Shakespeare in High Park festival.
Like Montreal, TO, the Six, Drakeville or whatever you’re calling it these days, is putting on M4M and also doing one of the top comedies in the cannon: Much Ado About Nothing.
Plays start July 4
Shakespeare in the Ruff, Withrow Park, Toronto
This could be fun. Shakespeare in the Ruff is putting on a Winter’s Tale this year, which is a pretty awesome play, but also a very tricky one to pull off.
There’s a bear, there are sheep and there’s a pretty epic ending on this one, so you might want to bring a picnic and check it out.
Plays start August 14.
Public Theatre, Shakespeare in Central Park, NYC
Dang again. Public Theatre is putting on, yep, Coriolanus. This I may need to make a special trip down to Manhattan to check out.
That starts in July, and Much Ado About Nothing is entering its final week.
Central Park is a pretty awesome place to check out the bard, and this bard brawler loved the version of Cymbeline they put on a few years ago.
You can get tickets via lottery for these or book well in advance. It’s worth it either way.
Shakespeare Kelowna, Kelowna, BC
And just to ensure that one play is being put on in the completely wrong time of year, Shakespeare Kelowna decided to stage the Christmas production Twelfth Night this summer.
The idea that this play is a Christmas play has lost all relevance, so the purists can just settle down at this point.
Jokes aside, this can be one of the funniest plays of them all if done right, and will be a delight for those people in the Okanagan up for a night at the Spearhead Winery.
Locale on this one can’t be beat, so get a ticket and check it out.
Productions start July 17.
If there are any other Shakespeare productions you feel the brawlers would enjoy, send us an email or message us on Facebook anytime.
While there are no gripes here about modern interpretations, different takes and whimsically inspired remakes of Shakespeare plays, there is something entirely satisfying about straight up productions.
“Something wicked this way comes.”
Take the meandering path to the Bard on the Beach tents at Vanier Park, and enter the witches brew of all tragedies found deep in the bogs of Scotland: Macbeth is on, the Scottish play, and you should check it out.
Director Chris Abraham went straight up performance and passion for this take on the bloody and brooding play, and it’s pulled off to great effect.
Casting is on point with Ben Carlson (Macbeth) nicely balancing madness, ambition, regret and power alongside the equally ambitious, unstable and ultimately tragic Lady Macbeth, played with skill and style by Moya O’Connell.
I took my 12-year-old nephew to the play hoping he would get a kick out of some live theatre, while at the same time being a bit nervous he would find it scary or disturbing. I don’t have kids, so never really know what parents think about these things. Oh well. He came. He loved it.
Note: take your kids to Shakespeare plays. They will enjoy.
Things needed to make the Scottish play work well: quality lead couple, cool witches, good choreography, believable death scenes, and a severed head if you have it. This one had them all. Well done.
Though I’ve read and seen the play multiple times (including one unfortunate production in high school that left me feeling very sad for the actors, who my brat classmates kept mocking aloud), Abraham’s staging and the performances kept me on the edge of my seat hoping, hoping, hoping against what I knew that certain decisions were not made that way. It’s such a great play.
Of course no amount of stage style matters in this play if the two leads don’t have chemistry. O’Connell and Carlson embrace the challenge. They are ravenous for each other as they desperately cling to each other and their power with tragic passion.
BOB has extended this play through September. Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow to see it or it shall be gone in a brief shadow.
The play is, now, Lysistrata by Aristophanes at Bard on the Beach in Vanier ParkSen̓áḵw:, a village remembered well by the Coast Salish people of the west coast and everyone who went to BOB’s only non-Shakespeare play of 2018.
The set up is such: bard on the beachers are getting ready to put on Hamlet, and, much to Colleen Wheeler‘s dismay, opt for Lysistrata instead, as Hamlet in all his meandering thoughts is a man who does nothing, while Lysistrata and her band of Grecian sisters cause a revolt.
When I saw BOB was putting on Timon, I knew it was number one on my list of plays I wanted to check out this summer. BOB introduced me to Timon in 2007, and it immediately became one of my favourite plays in the cannon. The Bard Brawl recorded a five-part podcast series on the play, and I put a Timon-themed photography and drawing essay together for ‘Zounds! volume 2. It’s one of the most underrated, and is one that works perfectly in a modern stage production.
Speaking of production, Meg Roe‘s concept and direction of BOB’s Timon is unique, brilliant and relevant. Timon (Colleen Wheeler) is the top cat among the high-society sycophants of Athens (read Vancouver) hosting cocktail parties full of sparkly jewelry, brand name bags and champagne, giving gifts with no expectation of return and blindly feeling her those around her are her wealth. Continue reading “Tour de force Timon thumps on theatre two”→
How do you get from All You Need Is Love to a wrestling ring to a gender bending Shakespearean pastoral comedy to a pair of shoes to die for?
As You Like It.
Bard on the Beach has upped its game again this year with what’s become a smash hit in the Beatles-infused musical hippy rendition of the play for its 2018 season.
The play is straight up entertainment from cover to cover with director Daryl Cloran missing no opportunity to hit a comedic, dramatic, romantic or musical note jumping from court to forest with style and side-splitting comedy epitomized by the John Fleuvog sixties-inspired shoes Rosalind (Lindsey Angell) wears at the end that every shoe-loving female (my mom included) will be drooling over.
NOTE: you may plan to not sing along to every song, but might very well catch yourself with eyes closed quietly singing “Something” by the end. Guilty.
The concept, sixties-based, hippy court and forest with Beatles music throughout, only had two possible outcomes: success or failure. Cloran’s production is cemented in the latter.
The set is stylish and not overly complicated, the costumes are superb, and the cast in this character-rich play is great. Each entry is exciting, and there are a few – scene stealers Ben Carlson (Jaques), Ben Elliott (Silvius) and Luisa Jojic (Phoebe) – who add such an delightfully unexpected charm to the second half that the play continues chugging to the end. Jojic and Emma Slipp (Audrey) enter late in the play and both have stellar voices that’ll give you shivers.
My dad was obsessed with Silvius; so funny, such great moves.
Speaking of moves. The WWE-style wrestling match in the first act was a super clever move, using Beatles music, of course, was a great turn, but… Sigh… I have to say, swapping the Forest of Arden with the Okanagan? Not a fan. Maybe because I grew up in the Okanagan, or because it got a cheap laugh, or because the Forest of Arden is just such an important locale in the Shakespeare canon or because I just don’t like when they change names in plays to make it local that I did not like that. In the end, it wasn’t really needed.
That one gripe aside, there is no way I cannot recommend this play to newbie and snob alike. It captures this clever play for all of it’s charm and wit, and gives a quality platform for one of the greatest female roles on Renaissance drama. The musicians nail the music, and the swapping of the bard’s lines with the songs is something a purist may have a problem with most of the time, but in this play it really works. The only detraction is that Rosalind’s epilogue gets cut in lieu of “All You Need is Love.” Hmmm. Is that cool? Meh, whatever. It left everyone clapping.
I’ll post the epilogue here just to assuage my Shakespeare cynic guilt:
It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue, but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no epilogue. Yet to good wine they do use good bushes, and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then that am neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play! I am not furnished like a beggar; therefore to beg will not become me. My way is to conjure you, and I’ll begin with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you. And I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women—as I perceive by your simpering, none of you hates them—that between you and the women the play may please. If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not. And I am sure as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths will for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell. (exeunt)
If you have not already, and if you’re in Vancouver, you’ve got to check out this play. BOB added more performances, but don’t be lazy; they will sell out.
Summer is upon us, and as such that brings a slew of Shakespearean productions ready to be gobbled up by those venturing into the open air for some culture, comedy and maybe cultish murders.
The Bard Brawl has been entertained by a number of companies in various places, and, as a promo/bumper/preview of what’s to come, we’re going to highlight some of our favourites, all of which are putting on some exciting plays this summer.
Vancouver, BC’s premiere Shakespeare festival of the summer is the one at Vanier Park, and this reviewer has seen upwards of dozen renditions of various plays. BOB always has a few gems, and even the ones that aren’t four-star productions, still wind up being worth a look.
You’ve got a week left to check out the play with the bard’s most famous stage direction of them all at Bard on the Beach. The Winter’s Tale will leave you roaring or bleating, depending on your spirit animal. (Photo & Image Design, David Cooper & Emily Cooper)
For those who haven’t read or seen it a brief synopsis:
King Leontes (Kevin MacDonald) of “Bavaria” (with a coastline and everything. Who said global warming is a modern issue) is all in love and happy with his wife Hermoine (Sereana Malani), but then he notices his wife is spending a little too much time with his bestie King Polixenes (Ian Butcher). Are they holding hands?! OMG, kill them all. So yeah a bunch of jealousy, the pregnant queen “dies” in jail, and the king wants to kill the baby too, so ferried away the young Perdita (later Kaitlin Williams) is. She’s saved from a bear (poor Antigonus (Andrew Wheeler)), found by a Sicilian shepherd, meets Florizel (Austin Eckert) 16 years later, who may also be royalty, and then it’s all wrapped up in the end back in Bohemia. There are sheep, there’s a bear, there’s magic and there’s a guy picking everyone’s pockets throughout.
Just go see it. It will all make sense.
Before anything else, the question is: do they pull off the following quote.
Antigonus: This is the chase, I am gone forever.
[Exit, pursued by a bear]
This is the highlight of the show that everyone is waiting for, and like Mark Antony’s speech, “my kingdom for a horse,” the murder of Duncan or “to be or not to be,” directors need to nail this one.
Does Gibson in fact, nail it? Absolutely.
Wheeler is great as Antigonus and the bear is incredible, as is the creepy appearance of Hermoine with eyes pulled out and everything. I was actually a little worried my niece would be traumatized by that image.
Props to designers for choosing a bear breed native to the Pacific Northwest, and extra credit for actually having the bear on stage and attack Antigonus rather than the always disappointing roar offstage.
Ok. That’s out of the way, and how about the rest?
This play is not easy to direct or produce, as it’s essentially two plays in one: the cold world of men and court in the first half, and the pastoral matriarchal world of the second half. How do you make them both work, so the play comes off as a single story. Both bard brawl co-captain Eric Jean and I studied this under the wise tutelage of Dr. Kevin “K-Pax” Pask, and it helped a bunch to understand the finer points that can whizz right by if you’re not paying attention.
Gibson does a good job at balancing the two halves, and using simple, but effective stage pieces to illustrate greater themes.
One criticism I had was the intensity of some performances in the first act.
My brother and I were chatting after about actors taking it up to 11 and keeping it there for too long, which a few did. It’s a little wearying and a few of the performers could have used a drop in intensity at times during the first half.
MacDonald, however, gets top marks for his jealous and tortured tyrant turned suppliant and guilt ridden victim. He, most of all actors on stage, varies his performance giving it a depth needed in such a complex character.
Oh, and the sheep… Amazing
The second half, with it’s pastoral airiness and light humour is incredibly designed, well acted, fun, funny and a joy to watch. Williams and Eckart are all charm and aided by the humour stylings of Autolycus (Ben Elliott), who’s great.
The play wraps in one of the bard’s finest endings that Gibson’s production does incredibly well. The magic of it all leaves that, dang. Yes! That’s why I like the bard feeling inside, and makes the whole thing wrap in a nice bow.
So, in answer to the “what did you think?” question everyone gets after leaving a play. Here goes.
The BOB’s 2017 version of The Winter’s Tale is a well-balanced, well-acted and incredibly designed show though almost too heavy at sections towards the front of the play. The play is one of the purists to be sure. The theme is tricky, the language heavy and some of the aspects of it take a little suspension of disbelief as well as critical study. That study, my friends, makes everything better.
Be well and let us be all so luck as to exit, pursued by a bear.
Bard Brawl co-captain Eric Jean and I are asked often one question: did Shakespeare really write all those plays?
Ok maybe two questions.
What’s your favourite play?
Neither of us have one “favourite,” but we both say almost always Othello for tragedy and Merchant of Venice for comedy, and then add a couple more, but none as much as those two.
This meant I did not want to miss and was pumped to check out Bard on the Beach‘s production of the Merchant knowing BOB always pulls out at least one or two truly quality productions per season.
I saw BOB’s production of Merchant in 2003, which was very good.
How is the 2017 production?
Go see it.
Director Nigel Shawn Williams nailed it, and I walked away thinking, ‘was that the best Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen?”
Merchant is one of the most important plays, and particularly vital in the current xenophobic culture drowning in intolerance of the other and an obsession with sticking to one’s own. Williams’ modern day Italy style replete with drunk, loud hipster douchebags completely self-involved cackling at others’ misfortunes and gobbling up their misogyny and racism like a gaggle of entitled rich kids in a boarding school is completely appropriate and completely successful.
Every production I’ve seen (including BOB’s 2003 one) sets Antonio as melancholy, thoughtful and tortured, but Williams does not.
Antonio is an asshole here.
This choice, to play Antonio thus, is the first of many excellent choices in a great production.
Short break for a plot rundown:
Antonio is sad, loans his friend Bassanio (Charlie Gallant) money to woo a pretty orphan named Portia (Olivia Hunt). Antonio doesn’t have the money on him so he borrows it from the Jew Shylock (Warren Kimmel), who says, ‘sure man. You can have it, and if you forfeit the bond I won’t even ask for the money, just a pound of your flesh.’ Antonio says sure, loses all his money, and…. Well, go see the play.
Kimmel steals the show. As Shylock, he is stoic and honourable and powerful, while also being tragic and sympathetic and vulnerable. He chews up ever scene with grace and understated rage.
The audience is struck silent when Gratiano (Kamyar Pazandeh) spits in his face.
The dichotomy between the douches and Shylock is incredible and unnerving to watch. There are few moments of comedy in this “comedy,” and more a growing rage at a dominant class of people stomping on those of an other group.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Williams for recognizing what a sick and twisted world it is that produces a situation where a Portia’s status, money, house, and identity will be taken from her because of a test her father concocted.
Portia is stuck. She must marry whichever suitor chooses the right casement, which comes with a riddle. Generally, this is where directors go for comedy. The arrogant Morocco, the crazy Aragon often blast onto the stage and make everyone laugh at their pomposity.
Not this time.
The suitor scenes are just uncomfortable and the discomfort is even greater when Bassiano (on the short list for all time sleaze bag characters of Shakespeare) guesses right.
Consider this: Bassiano only gets to woo Portia because Antonio lent him money. Antonio loses said money and Bassiano runs to help his one true love. The case is lost when Portia (in disguise) shows up to bail him out with her money that Bassiano offers back to her and then he gives her the ring she told him not to.
These people are idiots, and the coupling up at the end is far from a happy ending. Williams pushes this particularly with Jessica (Carmelo Sison) and Lorenzo (Chirag Naik), which is particularly apt.
Lorenzo’s seduction of Jessica causes her to lose her identity and people for a complete zero, and it’s is hard to watch her killer line – “I am never merry when I hear sweet music” – is powerful and tragic, and beautifully foreshadowed by Shylock singing from his room.
Speaking of Shylock. Williams did well to cast Solaria (Adele Noronha) and Solania (Kate Besworth) as female, and Kimmel nails the most famous speech:
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” III,i
You just gotta see it.
A couple other notes: this play shows how to act in slow motion. The video projections are unnecessary (the only small complaint I had). The sound is great, and the set is solid.
Don’t let the label “comedy” fool you. This play isn’t funny. In a modern context it’s a tragedy on three fronts.
It’s a tragedy of the outsider. It’s a tragedy of feminism, and it’s a tragedy of law. Those with power, Shylock, Portia and the law of Venice, are by the end torn apart. Those with arrogance win.
Williams somehow manages to get all three messages through. Well done.
Tragedy. Tragedy. Tragedy.
I loved this performance, and for those in BC who want to see a modern, stylish and near-perfect rendition of one of the Bard’s finest plays, do yourself a favour. There’s not much time left.