I’ve set myself the goal of seeing all of Shakespeare’s plays. I’m also planning to write about my experience. I’m calling it the Summer of Shakespeare. It’s going to be a fun project. By writing about the plays, I will deepen my experience. I hope you enjoy my reviews and notes inspire you. There’s one tremendous challenge in seeing all of Shakespeare’s plays performed. Some plays like “Romeo and Juliet” are performed constantly. By seeing multiple performances, I find that I can appreciate the play in different ways and better understand staging decisions. However, this summer I’m seeking to expose myself to new plays.
The Stratford Experience
Going to Stratford is an experience that I often enjoy. In this case, I enjoyed a Sunday with beautiful July weather. During the long trip to Stratford, I had the opportunity to finish reading “Imperium” by Robert Harris, an engaging novel about Cicero and the politics of late Roman Republic. I’ve long been interested in Roman history (and, of course, I am a major fan of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar).
During my visit to Stratford, I had a great visitor experience. I made my usual pilgrimage to the Book Vault on Ontario Street. I ended up buying three great books for $10: “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz, “Creators” by Paul Johnson and “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir,” by Natalie Goldberg. Simply put, it is a great deal with a very robust selection. Beyond shopping, I also enjoyed a picnic lunch by the river – one of the unknown pleasures of Stratford that few visitors have discovered. In the evening, I enjoyed dinner at Pazzo, a place that I would happily return to again (perhaps I’ll dine in the wine cellar room at some point). By the time I took the train home to Toronto, I felt happy and tired (though I managed to finish Lord Beaverbrook by David Adams Richards on the way).
King John Directed by Tim Carroll (#sfKingJohn)
Earlier in July, I had the chance to see “King John.” It’s one of the history plays I have rarely seen performed. In terms of story, it’s interesting to note how Shakespeare’s emphasis is quite different from modern culture. You might think of King John and Magna Carta go together for many people. You might also think about the many unfortunate portrayals of King John in films such as Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993). Shakespeare’s play makes King John a serious figure struggling to maintain his throne and win a war against France.
I very much enjoyed the play’s staging and direction. The decision to open and close the play with music of the Middle Ages, similar to a Gregorian Chant, set the mood just right. Of all the characters, I was most impressed by Philip The Bastard. Shakespeare gives Philip some of the best lines of the play. Broadly speaking, I also enjoyed the gravitas that Tom McCamus brought to the lead role. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that monarchs had unlimited powers and full discretion to do whatever they wish. “King John” shows how the crisis of war and less than supportive nobles put great pressure (and limits) on the monarch’s powers.
When I attend plays, I also enjoy reading the program for added insights. Happily, this performance did not disappoint. Tim Carroll’s essay explaining his approach made a lot of sense to me. It struck me as a thoughtful way to balance honouring Shakespeare’s creation and bringing a 21st century approach. All in all, this was an enjoyable performance! Bravo to the Stratford Festival.