Friday, February 9, 2018

2018 Shaw and Stratford Season Previews

Thoughts on the 2018 Seasons at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Shaw Festival

By David Grapes – Arts Journalist

February, 2018

Theatre patrons, who are passionate about quality theatre here in the U.S., should consider a trip North across the Canadian border into Ontario and spend some serious time exploring North America’s two largest theatre festivals – The Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Shaw Festival. The American dollar appears to have stabilized against the Canadian dollar, so the entertainment value when compared to the costs of theatre tickets for Broadway ($150+ average) or in London is high. And if you search the web, there are some excellent airfare deals for the upcoming summer into Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport for about $500.00 to $800.00 from most major US airports. Rental cars are readily available at the Toronto airport. (Try for the best airport rental rates) Driving time from the airport to either of the two festivals is less than two hours on four lane highways. Remember – Passports are now REQUIRED for any border crossing!

The Shaw Festival

Located in historic Niagara-on-the-Lake (30 miles North of Buffalo, 120 Miles South of Toronto) along the beautiful Lake Ontario shoreline, The Shaw Festival is the only theatre in the world that specializes exclusively in plays by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. During the last three decades, under the artful and highly creative leadership of Christopher Newton and Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw not only earned a reputation for innovative programming and stunning visuals, but also became home to one of the finest acting ensembles in North America. Director Maxwell, who led the theatre for more than a decade, retired as Artistic Director at the end of the 2016 season and turned the artistic reins over to Tim Carroll. While Carroll's first season was met a few mixed reviews from critics, the season turned out to be quite popular with the Shaw's loyal audience. From all indications, advance ticket sales are quite strong for the 2018 season. Those of you who are interested in attending the limited run of Stephen Fry's Mythos Trilogy should order your tickets as soon as possible, as I expect many performances will be sold out even before the 2018 season officially opens. 

For 2018 the Shaw Festival’s ever expanding artistic mandate under Carroll will include two Broadway style musicals (Grand Hotel and Oh What a Lovely War), contemporary plays (Stage Kiss and The Baroness and the Pig), three Shaw one acts, Shakespeare’s Henry V, a number of world and Canadian premieres, and three varied evenings with English storyteller Stephen Fry.  A season that one might find at any number of Canadian regional theatres, but certainly unusual for the Shaw which has long prided itself on producing period plays that are rarely produced at other professional companies.

As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 57th season this year, Carroll has also made major changes to the Shaw’s celebrated acting ensemble. Missing are many longtime Shaw stalwarts such as Jim Mezon, Sharry Flett, Moya O’Connell, Fiona Reid, Lorne Kennedy, Corrine Koslo, Peter Krantz, Catherine McGregor, Nicole Underhay, Norm Browning and Laurie Paton to name a few. They have been replaced by a few recognizable names from Stratford (Michael Therriault, Yanna McIntosh) and lots of fresh new faces.

For his second season, Carroll is again shaking the tree of tradition at Shaw. His 2018 offerings include: a popular American musical Grand Hotel featuring the return of Shaw favorite Deborah Hay; the world premiere of C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew directed by Carroll, the satirical WWI musical Oh What a Lovely War directed by Peter Hinton, O’Flaherty V.C. a Shaw Lunchtime One-Act, the Canadian premiere of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sarah Ruhl’s contemporary play Stage Kiss, The Baroness and the Pig by Michael Mackenzie with Stratford’s lovely Yanna McIntosh, the world premiere of The Orchard by Sarena Parmar, the Shaw’s first Shakespeare production in its long history Henry V, two seldom seen Shavian shorts How He Lied to Her Husband and The Man of Destiny, and last but not least, three different evenings with humorist Stephen Fry again with Carroll at the helm. While certainly rich in content, the 2018 season is missing one important element in my opinion. For the first time in the Shaw’s 57 year history, the festival will not produce a full length play by its namesake.  

Another exciting development over the past nine years has been the addition of an intimate fourth performance venue – The Studio Theatre (which seats just under 200 patrons). The new facility which was renamed last year to the Maxwell Studio Theatre has hosted such diverse productions as John Osborne’s The Entertainer starring Benedict Campbell, Caryl Churchill’s provocative contemporary play Serious Money, When the Rains Stop Falling, Topdog/Underdog, Helen’s Necklace, The Mountaintop, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, Middletown and the 2013 megahit production of Tom Stoppard’s theatrical gem Arcadia, which later transferred to Toronto for an additional run in 2014, August Strindberg masterwork The Dance of Death which featured the all-world cast of Jim Mezon and Fiona Reid directed by Martha Henry. This year with the closing of the Court House Theatre three of the mainstage productions will move to this intimate flexible space. The change in venue will certainly be a boon to the senior citizens, who often found it quite daunting to traverse the long steep stairs in the old Court House Theatre.


Festival Theatre

The Magician’s Nephew – April 4 to October 13

Grand Hotel – May 3 to October 14

Mythos: A Trilogy Gods. Heroes. Men – May 24 to July 15

The Hound of the Baskervilles – August 1 to October 27

Royal George Theatre

Stage Kiss – April 11 to September 1

Of Marriage and Men: A Comedy Double Bill – May 13 to September 2

O’Flaherty V.C. – May 31 to October 6

Oh What a Lovely War – July 14 to October 13

Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre
The Orchard (After Chekhov) – June 7 to September 1

The Baroness and the Pig – June 10 to October 6

Henry V – July 22 to October 28

David’s recommendations for the 2018 season

Grand Hotel – (Starring Deborah Hay and Directed by Eda Holmes)

The Hound of the Baskervilles – (Directed by Craig Hall)

Mythos – (Starring Stephan Fry)

The three Shaw one acts



Secret Theatre (For members of the new Secret Theatre Club)

Reading Series

Pre and Post-show Chats

Beyond the Stage Events

Friends Days

Shaw Conference

Teen Workshops

Summer Camps

Teacher Days

Niagara Falls

Old Fort Erie/ Old Fort Niagara

Wine country excursions

Lake activities

Theatre and Hotel Packages



Range from $25.00 CDN (student matinees) to $225.00 CDN (Mythos)

Rush seats are available day of show

$30 rate for patrons under 30 years of age at any theatre

There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available


1-800-511-7429 or 905-468-2172



NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE CHAMBER of COMMERCE RESERVATION SERVICE (CCA) 905-468-1950. In the Court House on Queen Street, Box 1043, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. Reservation service for 1700 plus rooms, representing every hotel and a collection of approved inns, cottages and bed-and-breakfast homes. For a quality experience, let our trained specialists help you select CCA (Chamber of Commerce Approved) accommodation. All price ranges represented.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE BED and BREAKFAST ASSOCIATION (BBA) 905-468-0123 or 1-866-855-0123. Box 1228, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. Members are identified by BBA in the listings. Call or visit our website for a free availability search or to book online. We maintain high standards and adhere to a code of ethics. Book with a member.

ABOUT HISTORIC BED and BREAKFASTS IN OLD TOWN CENTRE These private homes, built before 1850, are within 4 short blocks of a theatre, dining and shops. Visit our website or contact the following homes in the Bed and Breakfast section: Adam Lockhart’s Storrington House, Annette Twining House, Apple Tree Bed and Breakfast, Barrett Cottage, B&B’s “Pacific”, Blaney House, Burns House, Davy House, Regent House, The Rogers-Harrison House, Royal Manor, Saltbox 1820 Cottage, Schoolmaster’s House. Open year-round. Central air. Full breakfasts. Private parking. Smoke-free. All rooms have private en-suite bathrooms. $125-$225.

ACCOMMODATION ALTERNATIVES NIAGARA A fine selection of licensed cottages, apartments and homes in Niagara, suitable to those who prefer privacy and self-catering accommodations. Nightly from $150, weekly from $1,000.
Check this blog in August for reviews of many of the 2018 Shaw Festival productions.


The Stratford Festival

Located in the bucolic hills of Southern Ontario in the working-class town of Stratford, The Stratford Festival has grown from its humble beginnings in 1953 (two Shakespearean plays produced in a tent) to one of the largest and most respected theatre festivals in the world, now under the capable leadership of Antoni Cimolino.

Having completed a 50 million-dollar capital and endowment drive a few years back, long time patrons now enjoy improvements at all four of the Festival’s theatre venues, upgraded electronic services, and enhanced production quality on stage.  Exciting indeed has been the addition of a fourth stage known as the Studio Theatre located above the Avon Theatre. This small flexible space, which opened five years ago, is now home to new works by Canadian playwrights, workshops, productions, and for the first time in its short history – Shakespeare.  However, the Studio Theatre only seats 260 patrons, so if you want to see a popular production in the Studio Theatre, you need to purchase your tickets well in advance. That will be especially true this year as the Tom Patterson Theatre has been closed to make way for the construction of an entirely new state of the art performance facility.

Variety has always been a hallmark of the Stratford Festival, where works by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Moliere and Ibsen share the stage with Broadway musicals and the comedies of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward and although Shakespeare did not dominate the large Festival Stage under previous Artistic Director Des McAnuff, now that Director Cimolino is entering his sixth season, the Bard has once again returned as the artistic heart of the festival and will dominate the Festivals large Festival Theatre mainstage again in 2018.

This year Shakespeare lovers will be treated to three productions including The Tempest (Martha Henrey, Graham Abbey, Brent Carver, Lucy Peacock, Tom McCamus and Stephen Ouimette and André Sills – under the direction of Antoni Cimolino), The Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus and Julius Caesar (Seana McKenna). The 66th season will also feature another remount of the always popular American musical The Music Man (directed and choreographed by Donna Feore) on the Festival Stage while the campy Off-Broadway hit musical The Rocky Horror Show, glams up the Avon Theatre stage.

Other gems in the 66th anniversary season include Eugene O’Neil’s masterwork Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a timely production of Oscar Wilde’s political comedy An Ideal Husband, (starring Tim Campbell and Brad Hodder) under the direction of Lezlie Wade, not to mention a production of To Kill a Mockingbird (starring Jonathan Goad) and a new adaptation of Eduardo De Filippo’s rarely produced comic masterpiece Napoli Milionaria! Add to the mix two world premieres of Brontë, an exciting adaptation of Paradise Lost (featuring Lucy Peacock) and you have 12 amazing reasons to visit North America’s largest theatre festival this summer.

The US dollar has fluctuated in recent years against the Canadian dollar and it has been rising again this year, making the trip an outstanding value for 2018. With Broadway prices soaring to $160-$500+ a ticket, it is hard to imagine that you could get more “bang for your entertainment buck” anywhere in the world than in Ontario, Canada.


Festival Theatre

The Music Man – April 17 to November 3

To Kill a Mockingbird – May 4 to November 4

The Tempest – May 10 to October 26

Julius Caesar – July 31 to October 27

Avon Theatre

The Rocky Horror Show – April 27 to October 31

An Ideal Husband May 11 to October 28

Coriolanus – June 9 to October 20

Napoli Milionaria! – August 2 to October 27


Tom Patterson Theatre

No productions until the new theatre is completed

Studio Theatre

Long Day’s Journey Into Night – May 5 to October 13

The Comedy of Errors – May 15 to October 14

Brontë – June 6 to October 13

Paradise Lost – August 1 to October 14

David’s recommendations for the 2018 season

Paradise Lost (starring Lucy Peacock)

The Rocky Horror Show (starring Dan Chameroy)

Napoli Milionaria (starring Tom McCamus) (Directed by Antoni Cimolino)

The Tempest (starring Martha Henry and Brent Carver)

Coriolanus (starring André Sills)


The Festival Forum

Family Series Events

Stageside Chats

Festival Tours

Celebrated Writers Series

Night Music – Special concerts each Monday evening June to August in the Festival Theatre

A wide assortment of classes, workshops, special events.



Range from $20.00 CAN to $191.00 CAN

Rush seats are available day of show

There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available



Box Office E-Mail



I recommend the Swan Motel (Downie Street South)

Phone: 519-271-6376

Fax: 519-271-0682

Watch my blog in August for reviews of many of the 2018 Stratford Shakespeare Festival productions.

David Grapes has been a theatre producer/director/playwright/educator and freelance theatre journalist for over forty years. He holds a BA in Theatre from Glenville State College and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can also read his theatre reviews on Facebook at or follow him on Instagram @theatredavid or on Twitter @davidgrapes.