By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief
I have a specific “theater buddy” friend. We go to shows together all of the time, and both of us are literature nerds who like Shakespeare. This worked out nicely for the 2019 season of Bard on the Beach, Vancouver’s annual, outdoor, summer Shakespeare festival. We gushed and gushed about this season’s production of Shakespeare in Love for the whole car ride after we saw it. We’ve also never laughed at a play, show, or movie more than we did at Vanier Park.
We were surprised to learn from the program that 90% of the dialogue from the original 1998 Shakespeare in Love film was carried over to the play. However, having actors run around right in front of you, stealing manuscripts and kisses from each other, definitely makes the play more palpable and engaging than a film. This particular cast was also so, so good at using the stage they had; we saw people running up and down stairs, climbing onto balconies, jumping on and off, dueling here, smashing there — it was such a lively and engaging performance. The performance also included the cleverest staging of a play-within-a-play I’ve ever seen, featuring a rotating set piece that matched the characters’ costumes. The costumes (by Cory Sincennes) were also a hundred different kinds of Elizabethan gorgeous. I was especially drawn to the layers and colours they had, and to Viola’s dress. The actress playing the part, Ghazal Azarbad, was constantly dashing in and out of the dress for quick changes, even if the garment looked tediously complex to wear.
Perhaps the highlight of the show was Charlie Gallant, playing the bard himself. The man was non-stop, totally capturing the mania of someone who isn’t just falling in love or losing themselves in a creative project, but doing both at once in an incredibly intrinsic way. I had trouble taking my eyes off of Gallant, even if I knew I was supposed to be looking elsewhere. That’s not anything against his costar Azarbad or the other cast members, such as the hilarious Kate Besworth (John Webster), Austin Eckert (a charming and long-suffering Kit Marlowe), Susinn McFarlen (a lovable and exasperated nurse), or Jennifer Lines (who played a mean Queen Elizabeth I). Even with the strength of the cast, I just couldn’t look away from Gallant, who was always completely absorbed in his role, rushing around and trying to get one of ten things done. Whether he was dueling to protect his pages or reciting poetry, Gallant made you fall in love with him, even if just the slightest bit. This made the show so much more alive and the story so much sadder at the end.
In case you were still having doubts about attending this production, please also note that there is a dog in the play because, as Queen Elizabeth I herself says, “we like a dog.” According to the headshots online, we attended on the night where Kingsley was on, but hope to return to catch PorkChop on his night to perform.
Shakespeare in Love runs from June 12 — September 18 at Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park, on the BMO mainstage. Students are eligible for $26 tickets too. Warnings for the show include some sexually suggestive scenes featuring curtained beds and well-placed towels, and water-based haze to simulate fog.