By Prof. Sehdev Kumar
TORONTO: A visit to the Stratford Festival is a rich cultural experience. No matter what plays one sees – and there is a rich variety to choose from in every season – it is inevitably an experience in theatre, cuisine, Shakespearean memorabilia, and a memory of Stratford in England.
Created more than 60 years ago, Stratford Festival is one of the finest ensemble of plays and musical anywhere in the world. The Festival is a tribute to the works of the greatest playwright, William Shakespeare, of course. But amongst a dozen or so plays and musicals that are part of the season at the Festival this year, there are such modern classics as ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Becket, ‘Blithe Spirit’ by Noel Coward, a new Canadian play, ‘The Thrill’ by Judith Thompson, and such celebrated musicals as ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Tommy’, ‘Three Musketeers.’
Amongst the Shakespeare plays, this year’s season includes ‘Othello’, ‘Merchant of Venice’, ‘Measure for Measure’, and ‘Romeo and Juliet’. No one can be said to be educated and cultured unless one has read and seen some of Shakespeare’s plays: their richness of story, eloquence of language, exploration of human emotions, the range of subjects, all are unparalleled in the history of theatre.
The Festival Theatre, with its thrust stage, is an extraordinary innovation is presenting plays. To watch a play in this theatre is an experience in itself.
Hordes of students from near and far-off schools are brought to see plays at Stratford. One hope that it is an enriching experience, though sometimes one fears that the young are so submerged in their own world, that the world that Shakespeare conjures up of more than 400 years ago, seems alien to them.
There are two plays that are worth noting: Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ and Rock and Roll musical ‘Tommy’.
Written and performed in 1605, Othello is a profound expose of evil and manipulation, jealousy and devastation, false honour and death. Set in Venice and Cypress, what is so extraordinary about this play is that it is about inter-racial marriage, between black Moore Othello, and white Venetian Desdemona. How people and societies defined honour then, and now in certain communities, is a remarkable lesson in human nature.
Performed with eloquence and imagination, the characters of Othello and Iago – the evil man, who by winning his master’s trust, sets out to destroy him mercilessly – is something to hold.
The Rock and Roll musical ‘Tommy’ is a modern day classic about a young boy, Tommy, who, watching the ‘ways of the world’ within his own family, becomes deaf and dumb. His transformation into a sort of ‘messiah’ – a musical sensation – is told with glorious verve. The musical is a great tribute to the power of music to heal and transform, and to create enduring memories and icons.
Both ‘Othello’ and ‘Tommy’ continue until October 19.