Shaw Festival 2024 is Shaping Up to Be Loverly

Scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake has been playing host to the Shaw Festival since 1962, welcoming in audiences from both sides of the border – Buffalo is a stone’s throw, or better yet a short swim, across the Niagara River – for a mix of classical and contemporary theatre, combining everything from serious drama to comic musicals.

Though it has long since abandoned its mandate of showcasing works by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw – or by Shaw’s contemporaries – the Festival continues to provide a welcome, and beautiful, setting for entertaining theatrical productions.

Shaw Festival 2024 is Shaping Up to Be Loverly
Tom Rooney (Henry Higgins) and Kristi Frank (Eliza Doolittle) star in My Fair Lady.

This season is the least Shavian to date, featuring only a single work by Shaw – his Candida (1898) (Royal George Theatre, July 13 – October 11), the lighthearted comedy which took the 19th century British theatre scene by storm – and one Shaw-adjacent favourite, the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady (1956) (Festival Theatre, May 4 – December 22), adapted from Shaw’s Pygmalion and best known for the (truly marvellous) Audrey Hepburn film adaption from 1964.

The near-total absence of Shaw proper is certainly a disappointment, though longtime festival goers will not be surprised that this season favours guaranteed crowd-pleasers over the meatier fare with which the Festival earned its reputation.

The big comedy this year is Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors (2011) (Festival Theatre, June 6 – October 13), the farce perhaps best known for introducing (ugh) James Corden to the theatre-going masses. Other lighter fare includes the world premiere of Reginald Candy’s terribly named Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Human Heart (2024) (Festival Theatre, July 24 – October 13) and a quasi-musical adaptation of The Secret Garden (Royal George Theatre, May 31 – October 13).

Those looking for a more serious outing will want to keep their eye on Witness for the Prosecution (1953) (Royal George Theatre, April 6 – October 13), Agatha Christie’s adaptation of her own short story. The play, which was in turn adapted into Billy Wilder’s stellar film of the same name starring Marlene Dietrich, is a nail-biter of a thriller, one that will keep audiences guessing through to the end. Other dramatic fare includes The House That Will Not Stand (2014) (Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, June 12 – October 12), Marcus Gardley’s Lorca-inspired drama about Black women in early 19th century New Orleans, which earned widespread acclaim when it premiered in London a decade ago.

Intriguingly, the Shaw Festival this year is putting on not one but two modern reimaginings of 13th century Chinese revenge dramas. The Orphan of Chao (2024) (Royal George Theatre, June 13 – October 5), is a new adaptation of the 13th century Chinese revenge drama which has been called “The Chinese Hamlet”, while Snow In Midsummer (2017) (Jackie Maxwell Studio Theater, August 8 – October 5) is based on a drama/ghost story about a woman who curses her village after she is convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Of everything on this year’s calendar, these last two are probably the most intriguing: if Shaw Festival isn’t going to do Shaw anymore, at least it can bring us some exciting new adaptations of works from other major theatrical traditions.

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