The Shaw Festival will look like its old self again next season.
On Friday, the Niagara-on-the-Lake repertory theatre’s artistic director, Tim Carroll, announced a playbill for 2019 that will mostly comprise works by Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries – from the Irish playwright’s own five-hour epic Man and Superman; to a new translation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 verse romance Cyrano de Bergerac; to a rarely produced 1926 play by Mae West called Sex (set in Montreal’s red-light district).
“For the last couple of years, when our core loyalists have been saying to me, ‘But what about X, Y and Z,’ I have been saying, ‘Don’t worry, these plays haven’t gone away,’” said Mr. Carroll, whose current season is heavy on contemporary plays. “This is the season where I can prove it.”
Man and Superman, a heady comedy considered one of Shaw’s masterpieces, will be staged at the Festival Theatre by director Kimberley Rampersad in its entirety (including the oft-cut Don Juan in Hell dream sequence). The run, however, will be only 17 performances, which will also feature “farm-to-table menus from Niagara’s finest chefs, paired with regional wines” between acts.
The idea of creating a meaty, limited, destination event such as this came from the success of the Shaw Festival’s recent series of Mythos plays written and performed by Stephen Fry. “That’s one of the big lessons I took from the Stephen Fry [marathons], which did really well and sold really well,” Mr. Carroll said.
A similar event that had been announced for 2019, however, will be pushed back: The Mahabharata, a new multilocation adaptation of the South Asian epic being developed with director Ravi Jain’s Why Not Theatre company, will now premiere in 2020 to allow “plenty of time for it to marinate and cook.”
Three other shows will appear on the Shaw Festival mainstage in 2019: Brigadoon, the 1947 musical by My Fair Lady creators Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, directed by Glynis Leyshon; The Ladykillers, a new stage adaptation of the 1955 British black comedy, directed by Mr. Carroll; and The Horse and His Boy, another adaptation based on a book from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, written by Anna Chatterton and directed by Christine Brubaker.
The Magician’s Nephew, the Narnia adventure currently on stage in Niagara-on-the-Lake, started off slowly at the box office, Mr. Carroll said, but ticket sales have grown enough over the course of the season to justify further exploration of the series.
Over at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre in 2019, Sex – which will be staged by Peter Hinton – will be joined by Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, directed by visiting Hungarian director Laszlo Berczes, and Victory, a 1983 play set during the Restoration by the fervently admired, but rarely produced, iconoclast Howard Barker.
Mr. Carroll will direct the Barker, which comes bearing the warning “deliberately offensive: not for the squeamish.”
At the Royal George Theatre, another trio of plays that fit with the Shaw Festival’s classic mandate will appear: Getting Married, a Shaw comedy last seen at the festival in 2008 in a new production directed by Tanja Jacobs; Rope, a 1929 psychological thriller by Patrick Hamilton (famously later turned into a long-shot movie by Alfred Hitchcock) directed by Jani Lauzon; and Cyrano de Bergerac, which will be directed by Chris Abraham in a new version by The Last Wife playwright Kate Hennig.
The Russian Play, an early one-act by the acclaimed Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, will play in the lunchtime slot directed by Shaw Festival actress Diana Donnelly.
At the end of 2019, the Shaw Festival will expand the holiday offerings introduced since Mr. Carroll took over running the festival – adding the musical Holiday Inn to its now annual production of A Christmas Carol.
Mr. Carroll cautions that next season’s retro programming is not necessarily indicative of what will come in 2020 and onwards. “The next year, I’ll no doubt irritate a whole bunch of different people,” he says.