Saturday, August 27, 2016

Shaw Festival announces 2017 season

Earlier this month the Shaw Festival announced their 2017 season, the first under the direction of Artistic Director Designate Tim Carroll.  2017 will be the 56th Shaw Festival season.  So let's take a look at what's in store next year before some observations on this year.

The upcoming season will include 11 plays, two of which will be by Shaw:  Saint Joan and Androcles and the Lion.  Tim Carroll will direct both Shaw offerings next season.  Being a self-professed Shaw "newbie", Carroll says in the 2017 season press release he is "hoping for a season of plays that will entertain and provoke our audience as much as Bernard Shaw did his."

Carroll has readily admitted one of the reasons he took the job was the opportunity to work with what he calls "the best acting company in North America."  There's little argument there; the Shaw Festival has prided itself on exceptional ensemble work and individual star turns for many years now and quite often, they produce what could be considered a definitive interpretation of a particular play.

Still and all, with a new Artistic Director comes changes to said ensemble as some new faces appear and familiar faces depart.  It is inevitable, and happened at the end of Christopher Newton's long tenure at the helm several years ago as well.

Next season's lineup looks like this:


Me and My Girl, featuring music by Noel Gay and book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber.  Directed by Ashlie Corcoran, the musical is a reworking of the familiar Pygmalion story by Stephen Fry.

Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw, directed by Tim Carroll.  Shaw's 1924 masterpiece has been staged to great acclaim at the Festival before, so this new production will have a tough act to follow.

Dracula by Bram Stoker, adapted for the stage by Liz Lochhead and directed by Eda Holmes.  Holmes hit a home-run with this season's lavish production of Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance, so it will be interesting to see what she does with this new retelling of the gothic classic.


1837:  The Farmers' Revolt, by Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Murialle, directed by Philip Akin.  The first stirrings of nationhood are retold in this Canadian classic and it will be good to see this staged once again.

Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw, directed by Tim Carroll.  The actual fable is more than 18 centuries old, with Shaw's take on the tale highlights the unholy alliance of religion and power.

Wilde Tales (Lunchtime One-Act), featuring Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Kate Hennig and directed by Christine Brubaker.  The four tales will be suitable for adults and children alike, and each show will be different, we're told.


The Madness of George lll by Alan Bennett, directed by Kevin Bennett.  Bennet's political comedy that proved to be a hit at the National Theatre and inspired an equally successful film.

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Freel, directed by Krista Jackson.  Irish playwright Brian Friel tells the story about the lives and dreams of five sisters in rural Ireland.

An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Peter Hinton.  The play is an edgy take on Dion Boucicault's 19th-century play about slavery.


Middletown by Will Eno, with a director yet to be named.  If you enjoyed Thornton Wilder's Our Town this season, as I did, this modern American classic is a rather surreal response to that earlier work and should prove quite interesting to see.

1979 by Michael Healey directed by Eric Coates, in a co-production with the Great Canadian Theatre Company.  Here's your eyebrow-raiser for the season:  the play deals with former Prime Minister Joe Clark and the battle between idealism and dirty politics.  It proved at the time to be a defining moment in Canadian history and I for one remember vividly the political fallout from that tempestuous period.

Looks like an intriguing and challenging season, aimed at "stretching (the ensemble) in new directions" as Carroll notes in the press release.

Carroll has been a director of theatre and opera for more than 25 years now, beginning with the English Shakespeare Company in 1990 and including a stint as Associate Director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.  His work with the Stratford Festival here in Canada has resulted in several critically-acclaimed productions, including this season's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which has been extended at Stratford once again.

Carroll will take the helm of the Shaw Festival officially on December 1st, and present Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell will make her exit after a season with some highs and lows to end her very successful tenure in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

I've enjoyed the challenges Maxwell has presented audiences with over the years, and will miss her take on some tried and true theatrical masterpieces.  But don't be surprised if she returns in the future to direct a Shaw production again as did her predecessor Christopher Newton.

As for this season, although I've only seen three of the plays on the bill, Our Town, A Woman of No Importance and Uncle Vanya, the season has largely been an artistic success from my vantage point.  It's a nice way to end a lengthy and generally successful tenure at the helm of the Shaw Festival.

Thanks for the memories Jackie Maxwell; Tim Carroll, the stage is yours...

Have a great weekend!

August 27th, 2016.

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