English theatre in Canada? It’s a Shaw thing…

 George Bernard Shaw lived from 1856 to 1950 and was the most prolific playwright after Shakespeare. The Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake, has been celebrating his plays, and more latterly the plays that were written during his era, for over fifty years. It is a peculiarly home from home experience for me because the majority of the plays are so very English. Fifteen minutes drive from the kitsch and clamour of the stunning Niagara Falls we find the picture box town on the lake, (the lake in question being Lake Ontario.) This is surely one of Canada’s prettiest towns which also played a pivotal role in keeping Canada from becoming just another part of the United States in a massive bust up with the Americans in1812. 

George heads for the pub


 
 

 

The town has four beautiful theatres within spitting distance of each other, where a whole lot of largely English playwrights are celebrated every year from May to October. My fellow blogger and I had press tickets to all the shows and gleefully made the most of the fantastic theatrical smorgasbord on offer.
Theatrical Viagra, Niagara
The Shaw festival has a large ensemble of accomplished actors but they are all pretty much Canadian so they have to be able to do an English accent. Apparently a specialist voice coach is flown over from our shores for the specific purpose of honing their Anglophile vowels. On the whole this seems to have been a successful exercise but, while most actors managed convincingly posh it did give us some amusement as a few accents occasionally strayed into some other parts of the Empire.

 

How now brown cow?

The shows at the Shaw are top quality theatre, and as good as anything I’ve seen in the West End of London. The stage settings, costumes and music are second to none and obviously masterminded by some very talented people.
We saw six plays and two musicals in four days, there was no slacking, I can tell you. Another unique thing about the Shaw is that the town is so small, if you stay local, you can wander back after the show to your New England style B&B in less than ten minutes. Imagine if you will, a heavenly staged rendition of Oscar Wilde’s ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ followed by a stroll home in the balmy tropical evening past a skunk pottering at the side of the road. Quite charming I assure you.

Who needs Prozac?
 

The resident ensemble play multiple parts in different plays on different days – an absolute gift for a performer. On Tuesday you may see a down and out in the Salvation Army mission in Major Barbara, become a New York gambler in Guys and Dolls singing ‘Luck Be a Lady Tonight’ come Wednesday.

Smashing set
 


The Shaw try and do a mixture of well known favourites and less well known plays. The Light in the Piazza was a revival of a little performed musical which featured a brilliant performer Jeff Irving who I am tipping to be a big star. It has an unlikely plot which makes it ideal for a musical. Only 0.4% of the Shaw’s audience come from outside Canada or the States and this is surely a travesty. Tourists coming for the Falls and the wineries (over 100 in the Niagara area) and many don’t even know the Theatres are there! I shall make it my mission to spread the word that this is one place you can find a unique theatrical treat not quite like anywhere else in the world.

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