Monday, 19 August 2013

our road trip to the Stratford Theatre Festival 2013

Settlement in Stratford started in 1828, it is located in South West Ontario with a population of 30,000 persons. Part of the river that crosses the city was named the Avon by Canada Company Official John Mercer Jones, the rest of the river which is 273 KM long is known as the Thames, a name given by Governor John Graves Simcoe. The original name in Algonquin language is Askunissippi (Antler) and the lake in the middle of the town is named after Queen Victoria.

Stratford was an important railway junction as of 1858 and then became known for fine quality furniture manufacturing. In 1953 Tom Patterson, a journalist suggested that a Theatre Festival be mounted and only 2 years later, the dream came through. The Festival has become famous because of the big name actors who perform there each summer, in years past, William Hutt, Martha Henry, Sir Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer, Peter Ustinov, Dame Maggie Smith and the list goes on. But also the quality of the productions, sets and costumes has enhance the prestige of this festival.

This was my first visit to Stratford and for Will it was a return visit the first in 35 years, he attended each year from 1958 to 1978. We saw Fiddler on the roof, Blythe Spirit, The Three Musketeers, Waiting for Godot and Taking Shakespeare.

Will made a donation of theatre material he had collected through the years and we visited the archives of the Festival and met with its Director, Doctor Francesca Marini. The archives building is a very big site and holds costumes, decor, various objects connected with 60 years of Festival performances.

We went to Stratford after I spoke for about two years with fellow bloggers in the USA, Michael and David from Phoenix, Arizona. Both have blogs that I read and both suggested we should meet at Stratford. We also met their friend Martin Katz and Dale Zimmerman and this being a small world it turns out we have friends in common.

The City is beautiful and has that feel of a small town in South West Ontario farming community. It is two hours by car from Toronto and is far away to be untainted by that great miasma of a city.

The plays we saw, Fiddler on the roof was the strongest in my opinion, with Scott Wentworth as Tevye  in the title role. Then Waiting for Godot with Stephen Ouimette, Tom Rooney and Brian Dennehy as Pozzo was dark and oppressive, a different presentation from what I had seen in London with Sir Ian McKellen.  I was put off by the constant giggling of a certain number of people who appeared to think that this was a comedy on the scale of Mame. I think that when Beckett wrote this play in 1953 in French, he had gone through the Second World War and its horrors in France. It was a different time and the play appealed to a public who could relate to recent world events. Today all this is very far from us, so far it is difficult to relate to the characters. It would help if the next producer updated the setting to maybe stage it in a refugee camp today.

Taking Shakespeare with Martha Henry as the old professor whose talent is great and a pleasure to see and a young man Luke Humphrey as the student Murph who is starting in the theatre and whose performance is very uneven. We saw him in the Three Musketeers playing D'artagnan it was tedious and frankly I wanted to throw tomatoes, that is how bad it was. Maybe 20 years from now when he grows up....

Noel Coward's Blythe Spirit was a delight, though it is a period piece somewhat removed from our world today. Ben Carlson played Charles and Seana McKenna played Madame Arcati. In the end you realize that none of the characters are very nice people.

We stayed in a beautiful B&B which was more along the lines of an efficiency apartment but very pleasant. We could walk to all venues easily. I liked the fact that it was quiet, more so than Ottawa.

We are scheduled to go back next year to see our friends again and in the meantime I have to investigate more about life in Stratford, Ontario.



  1. it would have been 100% perfect if you hadn't left out the Tim Horton doughnuts.

    1. I have not done my restaurant review yet, not to worry.

  2. We certainly enjoyed our visit to the Stratford Festival a few years ago. I hope to return some day for another visit. The town is beautiful and charming.

  3. Obviously, another post intended to elicit unhappiness via envy.
    'Waiting for Godot' and 'Mame' in the same thought: Umm.. I like that!

    1. You should visit Stratford, a beautiful place.

  4. Cannot believe that you've never been to Stratford before! It's a lovely place.