Bard on the Beach, Vancouver’s annual Shakespeare festival, is back this year with its 25th Anniversary season. Only presenting four plays a year, Bard isn’t nearly as well known as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, or Stratford, but year after year, it never fails to impress audiences with its high quality, comprehensible performances that usually take an interesting spin on classic plays. All forms of storytelling are, indeed, methods of escape, but Shakespeare’s plays are filled with characters trying to break free. Whether the characters are trying to run from the laws of the land in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, hide from death in The Tragedy of Cymbeline, or escape a tropical island in The Tempest, their goals are very clear: to get away.
The Tempest, directed by Meg Roe, approaches the play in a typical, respectful way. Tempest is believed to be Shakespeare’s last written play, and has a sort of finality to it, as it follows the magician, Prospero, casting his last spell. Years prior to the opening of the play, Prospero was cast away to a tropical island with his daughter, Miranda. While on the island, Prospero has gained control of the elements and made friends with several fairies that reside there. When he conjures a tempest to trap the royalty that wronged him, he is able to exact his revenge while simultaneously setting Miranda up with a man.
The show’s magic comes out especially in the delightful performances by Jennifer Lines (Ariel), and Luisa Jojic and Naomi Wright (Trincula and Stephana). The hilarious scenes featuring the clowns are the highlight of the play, as well as the well crafted wedding celebration. Accompanied by a heartwarming string quartet, The Tempest is truly a magical evening.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the other main stage show, is of a different ilk entirely. Its clever references to pop culture, both modern and otherwise, add a lightheartedness that borders on folly to the already nonsensical plot. The costumes, props, music, and set, draw the audience in long before the plot even begins. It’s difficult to identify a clear theme in this version of Dream, but the mixture of Victorian Gothic and Glam Rock brings a delightfully unpredictable element to one of Shakespeare’s most well known plays.
The real gem of this year’s Shakespeare portion of Bard on the Beach, however, is Cymbeline. Directed by Anita Rochon, this tightly staged play evoked laughter, tears, and had moments of such brilliance that I immediately wanted everyone I knew to be able to see them as well. Cymbeline isn’t a common play, that’s for certain. Likely that’s because it’s not as easy to categorize as Romeo and Juliet or Twelfth Night. While called The Tragedy of Cymbeline, it has elements of a comedy, a romance, and a history, and has unpredicted plot twists throughout. The plot focuses on King Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen (beautifully played by Rachel Cairns) who is separated from her lover, Posthumus, and caught in the middle of a war. Complete with an evil stepmother queen, a plot reminiscent of “Snow White”, murder, love, singing, comedy, drama, and bone chilling moments, Cymbeline is the Shakespearean highlight of this year’s Bard.
Bard on the Beach runs until September 20th, 2014. For more information, look here.