Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stratford 2017

I am still recovering a bit from the trip to Stratford.  I think this is the first time that I saw two plays on the same day and caught the night bus home.  Normally, I either binge on 3 plays in a weekend (2013, 2015), so I stay overnight, or I see a single play in the season (2014, 2016).  I was particularly worried that the bus wouldn't get in until 1:30 or so, and I would miss the last subway from Union, so I actually biked down in the morning and left my bike in a locked bike area.  That meant that when the bus did drop us off at Front St (just about 12:45), I still had to bike home!  The traffic was very light, but I was still worried about being hit by a car not expecting to see a cyclist out that late.  Obviously, I made it, and then slept in a little bit this morning.  However, I had briefly contemplated adding one more Fringe show (a burlesque version of Lysistrata) to today's itinerary, but decided that would really be overdoing it.

Traffic was a little heavy, but we still managed to get in around 12:15.  I had thought I would have a seat to myself, but at basically the last minute, a couple turned up, and a young woman sat next to me.  I perhaps should have offered to switch seats, but that would have meant moving even closer to a fairly loud couple (and presumably the couple that I enabled to sit together would also have been far more talkative).  Still, not one of my finer moments, though to be fair, no one actually asked me to switch.  I was taking a break from Rousseau and his Confessions, and was reading Amit Chaudhuri's Odysseus Abroad, about a young student and his uncle living in London in the 80s.  So far fairly interesting.

I decided since I was going to be eating lunch and dinner in Stratford, I would just grab something cheap (pizza) for lunch.  I had about an hour to explore, and I looked at the shops, including the overpriced sale books at one book store, and then Fabricland.  I didn't see anything that grabbed me, largely because the selection was about the same as the Toronto Fabricland, but I may make a bigger purchase next year.

I won't write a lot about the plays, but that was my main reason for going.  And despite them being hundreds of years old, I will still be SPOILING the plots if you haven't seen them.


I enjoyed Sheridan's School for Scandal, though I had a lot of trouble believing in Charles' reformation (or his uncle favouring him just because he wouldn't sell off his uncle's portrait).  Is there really a good reason for Maria to see through his current dissolution to understand that he is a good person underneath?  I guess one of the two brothers has to prove worthy (in a comedy), and Joseph is definitely the worse of the two, being a hypocrite and a liar.  We don't really see Charles' getting rid of his entourage, partly because the playwright is in such a rush to end things at that point, but it might have helped make the reformation a bit more believable.  Also, the whole side plot with Lady Sneerwell and the forged letters is kind of confusing and rushed.  It is probably one complication too many, particularly when they decide that paying Snake twice as much to get the truth(!) will somehow brush the whole matter under the rug.  This is definitely a subplot that could have been excised.

This makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the play, and that isn't the case.  The scenes with Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Peter Teazle are always delightful.  Joseph Ziegler as Sir Oliver Surface is nearly always as good, notwithstanding his perhaps somewhat hasty positive judgment of Charles.  The single best moment is when Lady Teazle is hiding behind a screen in Joseph's lodgings and Sir Teazle is almost convinced it is just a French milliner.  This reaches French farce levels before all is revealed.  Also, when the gossips are all sitting about gossiping about everyone, this was also very good.

I saw School for Scandal back in 1999 with Brian Bedford playing Sir Peter Teazle and Steven Sutcliffe in the Joseph Surface role.  I have to admit, I simply don't remember too much about this production (and I so wish they were videotaping these productions! -- or more likely it was taped but hasn't been made available to the public), but I suspect they gave a bit more weight to the Joseph Surface-Lady Sneerwell scenes.  This was a slightly livelier production (from what I do recall) and it is a bit more tied in with today's issues of people's reputations being smeared instantly on social media, so it does feel more relevant.  I would certainly encourage people to go before the season is out (and I do hope they start releasing DVDs of the non-Shakespeare plays that Stratford mounts).

I had time to kill, since I didn't want to have dinner too early.  I sat down in a new plaza they have built next to the city hall.  This used to be a second row of parking, but it was often taken over by a mini farmers' market.  I can't tell if the farmers' market comes back into the plaza on Sundays or if it was relocated.  (They would have to watch out for the new fountains!)

I took the opportunity to read another large chunk of Rousseau's The Confessions.  I was pretty disenchanted by the point, and I basically forced myself to get through book 9 (of 12) and then I threw in the towel.  The book is pretty much unreadable at this point where he spends all his time talking about the many false friends who have turned on him (at least before you had some idea of what he was up to, though he still almost never really talks about his important philosophical ideas and how he came to them).  I really never saw the charm of Rousseau in the first place, particularly after he gave away his 5 children to a foundling institution and then after he admitted going in halves to buy a girl of 11 or 12 to serve as a mistress!  While in this particular case, he had to leave town before consummating the deed, he had sex with another underage mistress later on but made sure to confess to his main mistress (with whom he had those 5 children he abandoned to a life of poverty) and then of course to his future readers.  Basically, he seems like an appalling hypocrite on all accounts who had a hair-trigger sensitivity to slights and argued with just about everyone he knew.  What a guy...

I had dinner at the second Thai place (just off of this plaza).  It is quickly becoming my go-to place for dining in Stratford.  Then I wandered down to the river and the Tom Patterson theatre.  I am still gathering impressions of the other side of Stratford in case I ever do write this pilot for a TV show set in Stratford (trying to balance between the glamour of the Festival and the everyday aspects of a small town (with a big tourist industry)).  I saw the swans again, but this time there was a boat going up and down the river with a jazz trio playing.  That was a bit different!

I was there to see The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.  I keep trying to see more Middleton, but it is hard.  His plays really aren't staged that often.  I did see an adaptation of The Roaring Girl in Chicago and then Women Beware Women out in Vancouver.  Unfortunately, I don't think ticket sales have been great for The Changeling, so I don't know whether Stratford will put on more of his work, and I may have to pin my hopes on UT student theatre and perhaps George Brown's Theatre School.


I'll just put down a few random thoughts on The Changeling now.  I may circle back later.  It is actually almost shocking in how daring it was for its time, with the henchman De Flores insisting on sleeping with Beatrice as the price of killing off her unwanted fiance (to clear the way for her to marry Alsemero).  There are plenty of bed tricks in Shakespeare but I can't recall any where a man actually slept with someone he wasn't actually married to or at least was engaged to (or had some attachment to in the case of Measure for Measure).  In this case, not only has Beatrice lost her virginity to the wrong man, but she performs the bed trick to not get caught out.  And her finance actually does sleep with her maid Diaphanta, who enjoys it so much that she stays the whole night (for multiple performances) rather than leave at midnight as had been arranged!

It was a little odd that De Flores was made up to only have a hideous visage on half of his face, not the whole thing.  I do wonder if they were going for a bit of a Two-Face effect here (the Batman villain), though De Flores is pretty much 100% villain.  I thought the scenes in the madhouse were a bit drawn out, and I wasn't really convinced that Lollio would back off after he discovered his master's wife Isabella kissing one of the inmates.  Probably too much doubling of the plot going on in The Changeling, and I think there could have been a better way to cast suspicion on Antonio for the death of Alonzo than have this long, involved subplot.  The most confusing thing to me was that there didn't seem to be a scene where Beatrice's father rages about Alonzo running off and abandoning Beatrice, then pivots to marry her to Alsemero.  It wouldn't necessarily be a long scene, but no one comments on Alonzo's disappearance at all, until his avenging brother turns up after the intermission.  That was kind of weird.  It's quite bloody and a lot of people die, but slightly fewer than The Revenger's Tragedy and perhaps also than in Women Beware Women.  I'm definitely glad I saw it, and I think it is worth checking out, since it won't be coming to you soon in any other venue. 

We had to wait quite a while for the bus, so that was a bit of a drag, but the ride back was quick.  Someone on the bus commented that the changeling referred to the changes that the living people would make, based on the example of Beatrice and De Flores, but I don't think that is accurate.  I think it is a reference to how a bad seed could be planted in a good house by imps or demons (and while the conventional reading would be that De Flores is the monster, it is more likely that Beatrice is actually the bad one).  I had planned to read just a bit, but the driver never turned on the lights, so I think I actually caught up a little bit on my sleep.  So this is my 2017 report on Stratford.


  1. Sounds like a busy but good trip - stop in at the library to say hi if you ever have time on another trip! :) Sounds like we make the same stops when we travel -- book stores and fabric stores. Glad you enjoyed the shows - I've only seen one this year so far.

  2. You work at the library there? I'm done for this year, but next year, I'll make another journey. I sometimes try to stop off at the art gallery, but that only works if I am seeing something at the Festival Theatre.

    What did you see this season?