Preview: 2017 Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Fifty-five years after the initial Salute to Shaw, the Shaw Festival has firmly established itself as one of Canada’s premiere events. A celebration of the entertaining and provocative work and life of Bernard Shaw, the season kicks off on April 5 with 11 shows running until October 15.

For his first season, Artistic Director Tim Carroll is mixing classics (Shaw’s Saint Joan, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) with award winning shows (Dancing at Lughnasa, An Octoroon), modern Canadiana (1979) and new initiatives such as The Shaw’s Secret Theatre Club – surprise performances at the strangest places.

With numerous deals offered throughout the season and located in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Shaw Festival is the perfect weekend getaway from Waterloo Region. Here’s the full lowdown of the program.


April 5-October 15: Me and My Girl

Photo by David Cooper, from Shaw Festival.

The Shaw Festival kicks off in grand style with this hit comic musical about Bill Snibson, a proud Cockney who discovers he’s actually the fourteenth Earl of Hareford. While his grand title awaits, Snibson must decide whether it’s worth giving up his old life – and love. The hit from the 1930s produced classic songs like ‘The Lambeth Walk’ and ‘Leaning on a Lamp Post.’ However, the show was given an Olivier, Drama Desk and Tony Award winning update by acclaimed humorist Stephen Fry. Suitable for ages nine and up. Full schedule and ticket information here.


Apr 11-Oct 15: The Madness of George III

Photo by David Cooper, from Shaw Festival.

Alan Bennett’s exploration of George III’s deteriorating mental health and its effect on his declining relationship with his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, has spawned an Academy Award winning film adaptation that also nabbed the BAFTA Award for Best British Film. Tom McCamus (The Sweet Hereafter, Mutant X) takes on the juicy titular role. Suitable for ages 14 and up. Full schedule and ticket information here.


May 1-Oct 14: 1979

Dora Award winning playwright Michael Healey continues his exploration into Canadiana with a look at one of the country’s least celebrated leaders. 1979 looks at the short lived reign of Prime Minister Joe Clark and his interaction with rivals Pierre Trudeau and Stephen Harper. It’s been dubbed “a touching portrait of a politically who really wants to serve his country, but if he won’t bend the rules to hold on to power, how can he achieve anything?” Full schedule and ticket information here.


May 3-Oct 15: Saint Joan

Praised as Bernard Shaw’s greatest play, Saint Joan explores the remarkable teenage soldier beyond the myth. Was she the divinely-inspired savior of France, a dangerous clever charlatan or a pathetically deluded country girl? Audiences will get to decide as they watch her turn the male-dominated world upside down. Suitable for ages 14 and up. Full schedule and tickets information here.


May 7-Oct 8: 1837 – The Farmer’s Revolt

Renowned columnist Rick Salutin’s first published play was an instant classic, winning a Chalmers Award and airing on CBC. 1837 recounts the rise of immigrant farmers in Upper Canada, rallying to William Lyon Mackenzie and leading “the uprising that paved the way for nationhood.” Full schedule and tickets information here.


May 14-Oct 15: Dancing at Lughnasa

Often described as an “Irish Chekhov,” Brian Friel’s stellar decades-long career received a late boost with this 1990 play that won Tony and Olivier Awards. Set in the 1930s, Dancing at Lughnasa follows five sisters living in a cottage whose lives are about to drastically change. Meryl Streep starred in the 1998 film adaptation. Full schedule and tickets information here.


June 6-Oct 7: Androcles and the Lion

In his first year as artistic director, Tim Carroll revives Shaw’s take on the fable of the man who pulled the thorn from the lion’s paw. This rendition promises to be “a daring theater experiment where everyone in the room, actors and audience, will have the chance to get involved.” Full schedule and tickets information here.


June 8-Oct 7: Wilde Tales

Known for his wit, Oscar Wilde’s magical imagination gets celebrated in this family friendly production of The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose, The Remarkable Rocket and The Selfish Giant – wondrous tales where statues, birds and fireworks speak and kindness and love are celebrated. Pre-show workshops are available for kids 6 to 12 years old. Full schedule and tickets information here.


July 8-Oct 14: Dracula

Renowned Scottish poet and playwright’s Liz Lochead’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s iconic work has become a theater favorite since its debut at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh over 25 years ago. Allan Louis (NCIS, Person of Interest) stars in the titular role while Shaw favorite Eda Holmes directs. Full schedule and tickets information here.


July 13-Sep 10: Middletown

Since his 2004 Pulitzer Prize nominated play Thom Pain (based on nothing), Brooklyn based playwright Will Eno has been gaining more acclaim. Director Meg Roe adapts Eno’s 2010 work about an average group of people in an average town that goes searching for love in bizarre ways. Full schedule and tickets information here.


July 16-Oct 14: An Octoroon

Less than a decade into his career, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has already won an Obie Award and was a finalist for last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In An Octoroon, he savagely revisits Dion Bouciault’s 1859 story of a plantation owner who falls for a woman of mixed race. What appeared then as a bold plea for racial tolerance is embarrassingly racist today with the adaptation winning praise for its uncomfortable humor. Full schedule and tickets information here.