This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
November was another great month for Shakespeare in Toronto. Hopefully you were able to check out Hart House’s run of Hamlet and Shakespeare Bash’d’s marvelous King John. But while November brought awesome theatre to the city, December is an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for all of the amazing Shakespeare companies and the incredible theatre that this city has to offer. What better way to do this than to party with your favourite actors and creators, or to try out your acting chops yourself? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
Shakespeare in Action is “calling on all professionals with the desire to make a difference in the lives of youth at risk!” to take part in their annual Shakespeare Challenge. They are looking for 14 members of the community to work with artistic director Michael Kelley to perform an abridged version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Participants will attend 8 rehearsals start in January 12th and will culminate with a performance at their gala event on April 6 at The Arts & Letters Club. Participants will be asked to sell 8 tickets to the gala, all of which will go to help funding their educational programs. The registration deadline is December 18! I had the opportunity to attend one of Shakespeare in Action’s Youth Summer Camp performances and was blown away by the incredible dedication of everyone involved and the feeling of joy and accomplishment exuding from all of the youth participating. Shakespeare in Action helps foster a love of Shakespeare in the next generation, and if that isn’t a reason to get involved with their mandate, I don’t know what is.
Spur of the Moment Shakespeare Collective, another group of actors and creators making a difference in their communities through Shakespeare, will be holding their Shakespeare-In-Hospitals Showcase on December 16th and 17th at Unit 102 on Dufferin Ave. Tickets are $20 at the door and $15 online. Check here for tickets. Spur of the Moment has been performing Shakespearean scenes at hospitals and other care facilities all over the city for the last few months and this is a great opportunity to see what they have been performing at bedsides, in waiting-rooms and other places where they can add joy to places where theatre may be inaccessible. This showcase is also a great opportunity to hear from this year’s participants about their experiences during the program. I encourage you to check it out, you won’t be sorry.
Shakespeare Bash’d will be holding a holiday party/ fundraiser for their production of Hamlet at the Monarch Tavern in February called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Sexy on December 18 at the Theatre Centre Café and Bar. If you like Shakespeare (and it seems Tom Stoppard), karaoke, games, and drinks then come out and support this incredibly talented theatre company!
Shakespeare Bash’d just finished their run of King John. They took this underperformed play and created a vibrant and relevant interpretation. They staged their play in the punk-rock scene of the ‘70s which made the play seem grungy and new. The costumes and staging added to this grungy vibe, all of the characters wore some kind of leather and many of them wore band t-shirts. There were two character’s costumes which I thought were especially clever. Firstly, Bailey Green’s (Arthur) Dead Kennedys shirt, which featured a child kneeling at a grave and her ripped jeans–I thought this brought out the fact that she is at the mercy of many of the characters of the play because of the death of her father and her uncle King Richard. I thought her costume captured both the punk-rock aesthetic of the play and her character’s vulnerability. I also thought Matt Shaw’s (Duke of Austria) costume was incredibly clever. The Duke of Austria is supposed to have a lion skin draped over his body in the original play. Here, they had him wear a muscle shirt with a lion on it under his leather jacket. So simple, yet so clever. It would have been interesting if the Bastard had waved the shirt around and carried it as a trophy as he does in Shakespeare’s original play, but the way he was killed all but made up for that. Pandulph’s costume was also an arresting departure from the original play. Catherine Rainville, who played Cardinal Pandulph, who is meant to be legate from the pope, wore leather pants, a corset, and bright red shoes to account for the red of a cardinal’s robes. At times during the production, the staging made the audience feel as though they were witnessing a series of alley brawls by rival gangs. The audience was seated at the sides of what seemed to be a long dance floor and much of the action took place there instead of on the stage. It was such an interesting use of the space and really helped ground the story, making it seem less formal. The gender-blind casting also worked well, all of the actors did a fantastic job and captured both the essential elements of Shakespeare’s original and made the play engaging and incredibly entertaining for a contemporary audience. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other history plays, such as the Henry IVs, and Richard III, John doesn’t always engage modern audiences because it doesn’t have epic battles and John doesn’t have the charisma of Hal or Richard, but this production played up the play’s strengths, which come from the developed secondary characters. By letting these secondary character’s shine, as well as focusing on John’s motivations, Bash’d took an underperformed gem and made it shine.
Hart House Theatre’s production of Hamlet also incorporated some interesting elements into their production. I especially liked their use of portraits of King Hamlet and Claudius. Hanging an enormous portrait of Claudius left of centre of the stage, made it seem that he was almost omnipresent for much of the play and made Hamlet’s madness and obsession with Claudius’s part in his father’s murder seem more legitimate because we too were faced with Claudius. Dan Mousseau was a brilliant Hamlet. He had such high energy and sometime spastic, something that I thought worked well. He was also a consistent Hamlet, the madness was not subtle but it never felt contrived. He also showcased an incredible emotional depth. This production also had a fantastic secondary cast, but in many ways I feel that they weren’t allowed to shine. All in all it was an enjoyable production but I think it had so much more potential.
Check back soon for more Shakespeare news, views, and reviews from Toronto!