The SHAW Theatre festival – more plays,picnics and cycling for softies

Perfect lakeside picnic

Four more plays were on the menu for us at the SHAW theatre festival in the beautiful historic town of Niagara on the Lake. JM Barrie had a bit of a starring role this year, with Peter and the Starcatcher providing a high energy romp through a play by Rick Elice which imagines the story of how Peter Pan came to be in existence, before his appearance in the famous novel that we know and love.  It’s a bit of a departure for the SHAW in that it has pantomime comedy elements and is clearly meant to appeal to children. It has some very funny lines and lots of physical comedy. There was quite a bit of acrobatics going on in the rigging of the ships on stage as well, and it is interesting how connected ships and theatres used to be. 500 years ago most of the scenery was on heavy canvas and sailors were employed to hang it and operate cables and pulleys as they ‘knew the ropes.’ It is also why the stage floor is called the deck, other locations around it include bridges and bays, the technical staff are the ‘crew’ and ‘stagehands.’ Well, I thought it was fascinating anyway.

Island adventures for Peter and friends

There is a large trunk of ‘star stuff’ Ito be protected and it’s hard not to like the idea of star stuff making everyone’s wishes come true. It is also good to have a girl as the adventurous lead. The lovely Kate Besworth takes on the role of the intrepid Molly and bounds through the show with her enviable energy and 100 wat smile. Martin Happer meanwhile, brings the whole show hilariously to life with his manic portrayal of the evil Black Stache! He does get the advantage of many of the best lines though. I was also in awe of Jenny L Wright’s (Mrs Bumbrake) ability to wind herself up a skein of material and hang upside down dressed as a mermaid. No bingo wings there. The undersea world creatures have a bit of a transformation when star stuff leaks out of the sunken chest into their sea, and it gives the excuse for a colourful musical song and dance number. Peter also gets star stuffed and ends up as a boy forever, which luckily, is what he wanted.

Reflecting on Independence

JM Barrie pops up again as the author of the topical short play – the Twelve Pound Look- which explores the question of financial independence for women which was a struggle at the turn of the century. Women were wives and mothers first and foremost and respectable occupations were limited. The first wife of the soon to be Lord Simms leaves him purely because her life with him was stifling her, but the turning point was when she realises she could earn twelve pounds by buying a typewriter and taking in work, and that meant she could survive on her own. The current, soon to be lady Simms is constantly patronised by her husband who thinks he just needs to bedeck her in more jewels to keep her happy, and she becomes intrigued by the idea that maybe she too might be able to escape her golden chains. It is a feminist piece with a delightful light touch and brings home the point that gender equality even in our modern world has still not been achieved.

Love on the rocks

We really enjoyed ‘The Lady from the Sea’, a beautifully written piece by Ibsen which is firmly in the classic period mould which the SHAW does so well. Moya O’Connell as Ellida, is a SHAW regular and this part fitted her like a glove I have to say, as she is torn between the romantic ideal of her lost sea faring lover and the more prosaic reality of her steadfast older husband. I particularly liked it because it illustrated the fact that the way you think about something is the same as your actual experience of it. If you are always yearning for what you might have had you may miss out on the chance to be happy with what you’ve got. Not a new idea, but one so very ably illustrated by a lovely cast in a lovely play. And it’s got a happy ending.

More prime real estate

The final play we saw was Cary Churchill’s Top Girls which is a more modern eighties play – another departure for the SHAW but which has a similarly feminist theme, but it wasn’t my favourite. Although beautifully stage as always, the play is just not as well written as some of the more classic pieces and I felt that the SHAW’s very best actresses were in something which just wasn’t quite as good as they were. It was still better than lots of other things you might see elsewhere, but I suppose my expectations are high of this fabulous Theatrical event.

Fine in a straight line..

We had a lovely day cycling along the river path on bikes courtesy of Grape Escape who also do tours on bikes around the picturesque vineyards of which there area a great many hereabouts.  We were sorted out with wheels by the super friendly Karl (from Doncaster, Yorkshire, England) and we set off along the flat, breath-takingly pretty cycle path route which takes you all the way from the Lake along the river, to Niagara Falls itself. It is something you really have to do while you’re here as the countryside is gorgeous and the cycling is just so easy, even for such as myself who struggles with going around corners. A delicious picnic made up of local produce just put the icing on the cycling cake.

Five piece picnic

Check out the SHAW festival trailer here!


Have tractor – will travel