Over the Labour Day weekend, my theatre buddy and I went to the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. This annual event is designed to celebrate the plays and legacy of the great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950).
We took in two of Shaw's plays. Pygmalion, which of course later served as the inspiration for the musical My Fair Lady, was in this production set in modern-day London rather than in Victorian times. So no more evening clothes and top hat for Professor Higgins -- imagine him instead in shorts, t-shirt and a bicycle helmet! Eliza Doolittle's famous swear word was also updated to more suitably shock a contemporary audience, LOL!
The other Shaw play we attended was You Never Can Tell. Look at that sumptuous set and extravagant costumes! These distractions offset the fact that the play's feminist attitudes (so radical and shocking in Victorian times) are today absolutely mainstream and ho-hum. Nothing outrageous anymore about this play!
The Shaw Festival also stages plays by other playwrights who were contemporaries of Shaw. We went to The Lady from the Sea by Henrik Ibsen. Not surprisingly, it was about an unhappy wife trapped in a stultifying marriage, as were so many of his plays.
And we also went to a very enjoyable and atmospheric Kurt Weill musical cabaret called The Next Whisky Bar. Oh, so many sailors, pimps and prostitutes!
Modern playwrights who deal with themes that were close to Shaw's heart also get staged at the Shaw Festival. We really enjoyed seeing Tony Kushner's play The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. It was four hours of radical politics, queer sensibilities, lingering religiosity and family dysfunction. Good times!
George Bernard Shaw was most decidedly not a fan of the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, who figures prominently in Canadian playwright Michel Marc Bouchard's new play The Divine. A 1905 tour appearance in Quebec City brought The Divine Sarah into conflict with the rigid Roman Catholic Church.
The scenes alternate between a Catholic seminary, Bernhardt's dressing room and a shoe factory employing child labour. The seminary is pictured below -- and if that set doesn't strike a chill in your heart, I don't know what will.
All in all, some great plays and an enjoyable visit to one of Canada's pre-eminent theatre festivals!