My Ideal Stratford Season

Antoni Cimolino will soon be taking over the artistic direction at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and he's already breaking my heart. According to the linked article, he would rather produce The Who's Tommy than Henry IV parts 1 and 2 along with Henry V. That is a pretty bizarre priority for a classical repertory theatre, but considering that it's been Des McAnuff's mission to make Stratford a well-oiled cash machine featuring the seminal works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, maybe this mentality isn't too surprising.

That's not to say that I still won't be excited for next year's season. I am always thrilled when it comes to what Stratford does. The Festival is basically Disneyworld for me. But sometimes, when I'm a little blue, I like to construct my own seasons. Here's my favourite one that I've made.

Hamlet- This play is one of my personal favourites, and it looks like I'm not in the clear minority for once. Honestly, there's so much literature, theory, and original text that comes with this piece, lines on which entire productions can be based. I think this play is full of possibility that can never be fully plumbed, and it is my personal opinion that there is no such thing as Hamlet fatigue.

I tried to compliment this Hamlet with other productions that are in the season: Doctor Faustus and The Devil Is An Ass. Themes of discourse with the supernatural, unnatural doings by immoral men, and the science versus religion debate all figure prominently in these three contemporary works. At a time when perceptions of the world were rapidly changing, these plays were extremely topical. I feel they still are now, when everyone is increasingly paranoid about the advances in science and technology. As the play progresses, Hamlet's vision of the world changes, and with it his morality.

For this specific hypothetical production, I'd cast Dion Johnstone as the sweet prince, because he is the only person in the existing company who I think has an entire Hamlet in him at the moment.

Richard Monette also had a fascinating idea regarding Hamlet, where he would have had it in a studio setting with six actors sharing the role.  It would have explored several interpretations of Hamlet over the course of the evening, as well as being an awesome showcase of talent. If Hamlet wasn't going to be my flagship production, I'd certainly try this. Out of the existing company, I would cast Sean Arbuckle, Wayne Best, Dion Johnstone, Seana McKenna, Martha Henry, and Cara Ricketts.

The Winter's Tale- This beautiful and sweet play is really underestimated but has everything a later Shakespeare comedy needs; magic, mayhem, a wistful understanding of nature, and a broken family that is fixed by endless reconciliations in the fifth act. I can't really explain my attraction to this play, but it's the only one in Shakespeare's canon that will make me honest to God cry without fail every time I read it. I don't even care how or where it's done, but it has a permanent place in my ideal Stratford season.

As You Like It- I love this play. It is far and away my favourite Shakespearean comedy, and would definitely be a part of my ideal Stratford season. I'd let my friend design this one, and she informs me that she would like a Takarazuka-inspired outing of the play, if not actually getting the Takarazuka Revue to come and do a few showings here. She also wants an all-female cast. I'm surprised I wasn't the one who was suggesting half these things. :D This time.

I think if the court scenes were inspired by the rococo aesthetic of Takarazuka's big ol' musicals, while the country scenes were in the vein of their more traditionally-rooted offerings, this would be a very successful As You Like It.

King Lear- I just want to do this with Martha Henry in the lead role. I defy you to think of anything wrong with that plan.

The Devil is an Ass- Ben Jonson- Jonson is criminally underperformed at the Festival (hence the pathetic image above), and though a couple of his pieces show their age, a lot, especially the comedies that he wrote, feel incredibly contemporary. This play is pretty fucking hilarious, and does not require too much telegraphing on the part of the creatives to stay funny to modern audiences.

The Devil is an Ass deals with issues that are also present in Hamlet and Doctor Faustus. It also complements Hamlet's nod to metatheatre, with a great scene where the characters of the play are watching The Devil is an Ass at the Blackfriars theatre.

Sweeney Todd- Stephen Sondheim- Because Hell yeah this deserves a place at a classical repertory theatre, especially Stratford. One of the finest actors to come out of Stratford, Len Cariou, was the first Sweeney on Broadway, and in my opinion the definitive one.

My main problem with Stratford doing musicals is that in the programme notes, half of the content is them justifying their choice in mounting Evita or Jesus Christ Superstar at a Shakespeare festival. They don't want to say that they just do these shows for money.

Well, Sweeney Todd has all the cred that JCS does not. It follows the ouroboros structure of a revenge tragedy, a protagonist who avenges past wrongs with monstrosities until he consumes himself. It has brilliant music and a complicated plot. Done with a full cast of classically trained actors, this Sweeney would be one of the best in recent memory.

Cyrano de Bergerac- Edmund Rostand- I very much want to see this show done in French with English surtitles on alternating nights. This was tentatively tried with Don Juan a few years ago, but I don't think it's been attempted since then. That is a shame, because Cyrano de Bergerac crackles in French, even to those who don't speak the language. In addition to that, Canada has so many fantastic classically trained French actors who don't get too much exposure outside of Quebec, and it seems practically criminal not to have them at Stratford in some constant capacity.

Now, if I couldn't go with a complete French production of this play, then I have another concept up my sleeve. It would be an adaptation/translation where Christian is not adept in the French language, and has to rely on Cyrano's expertise in order to woo Roxanne. It would be hard to pull off -- an exceptionally talented translator and dramaturge would be needed -- but I think it would effectively bring the main conflict home in a new way, while preserving the fantastic poetry's original form. Cyrano is always done best when the focus is on the love of language which all the characters share.

Doctor Faustus- Christopher Marlowe- I'm a bit of a Marlowe head. I honestly wanted to put Massacre at Paris on this list, but it's so breathtakingly incomplete that I couldn't possibly justify it's being put on a commercial stage. Maybe Massacre at Paris would do well on the small outdoors stage that Stratford has for special events, but it isn't even substantial enough for the smallest of its interior stages.

So I chose the classic Marlowe tale that also ties in quite nicely with the themes and locales of Hamlet. Someone who has found both Faust and Hamlet went to Wittenberg even wrote a play where they have discourses with Martin Luther. Beyond the university connection, there is the same sense of magic, superstition, and the more spiritual side of religion being replaced by secularism and science. Faust tempts what is otherworldly with his ambition, and it backfires in the most spectacular way possible.

Look at the blurbs for this production. Look at that subtitle. You can't not love it.
Orestes- Euripides- Shut up Classics people I love this play. AND I'LL ALWAYS WANT IT PLAYING AT STRATFORD. Why do I want the middle part of a long and convoluted story playing by itself at Stratford? Because fuck youuuuu that's why.

Tartuffe- Molière- Two words: rhyming translation. As you guys might know from my previous posts about doing this play, I have a minor fetish for translations of Poquelin's plays that manage to keep with the couplets in the original French. These range from the respectful to the downright bawdy, and my favourites have always come down on the bawdy side.

And honestly, Tartuffe is much better as a romp than a drawing-room comedy of manners.

Once Upon A Mattress- Mary Rodgers (music) and Marshall Barer (lyrics and book)- I cannot express the full extent of love I have for this musical. It's fun, it's silly, and very much aware of how fun and silly it is. It's one of the most ridiculous fairy tale adaptations ever (yes, there is a Princess and the Pea musical!), but it's not cynical or condescending towards its source material. It's a guaranteed good time at the theatre, but above all I think that it would be a great showcase for Chillina Kennedy's truly underutilized talents as a comedienne.

This would probably be the moneymaking musical of the three I have in this season, so we'd probably find it in the Avon playing to full capacity three times a week.

I swear to God the fact that this was put on by the all-female Queen's Company in New York had no bearing on my love for this play.
The Wonder- Susanna Centlivre- One of the most popular playwrights of her time, Susanna Centlivre's numerous works have been more or less forgotten by time, which is quite unfortunate. Her plays, with their incredibly intricate plots and memorable characters, are gems. They rely on a strong cast with impeccable comic timing, especially The Wonder, which has more plot points than some Roman comedies and yet manages to tie them all in a neat knot by the end of the play. Truly a worthy challenge for one of the most praised Classical companies on the continent.

The Fantasticks- Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (lyrics and book)- This extremely well-known and long-running musical is based on L'Aiglon by Edmond Rostand, who of course also wrote Cyrano de Bergerac. It's a very intimate musical, and so I think I'd put it in the Studio Theatre, the most intimate theatre space there is at Stratford.

I just want Brent Carver to sing 'Try to Remember.' Is this a crime? Is it ever a crime to want instant theatre magic?

The Penelopiad- Margaret Atwood- I'm very fond of this play, which is based off of Margaret Atwood's novel of the same name. It's a retelling of the Iliad and Odyssey from Penelope's point of view in Ithaca, and it is quite witty.

Seana McKenna. As Penelope. Yes. Sorry for no creative casting.

Compleat Female Stage Beauty- Jeffrey Hatcher- This is a weird choice of mine, and not one I'm entirely sure would really fit at Stratford, especially when we already have Elizabeth Rex. Whereas this play does talk a lot about Shakespeare, and the plays in a part of their history that's interesting but not really addressed that often, Compleat Female Stage Beauty is betrayed by its overly contemporary sentiment. Nonetheless, I think that this play has a lot of cool ideas, if half-baked, about style versus realism, something that is still an issue in modern Shakespearean theatre.

My main reason for choosing this play is the characters. Compleat Female Stage Beauty offers great roles, first in that of Ned Kynaston, the player of tragic women's roles who is abruptly displaced by a real live woman. His successor Maria has the biological assets for Desdemona and Juliet, but none of the training that Ned has had. King Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwynn also make memorable appearances. If this play is a bit preachy about gender equality and presentation, and a bit light on plot, it more than makes up for it with great characters and scenarios for them to bounce off of each other.

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