Summer in Montreal means many things for many people. Dirty old men trolling for much younger partners at Grand Prix weekend, The International Jazz Festival, Francofolies, Just for Laughs, and the torrent of construction that torments pedestrians and motorists alike.
For me one of the highlights is Shakespeare in the Park, a chance to take in some fresh air and culture, courtesy of Montreal’s own Repercussion Theatre. After a nearly three year hiatus due to the COVID19 pandemic, they were back with a vengeance, resuming a tour of that went to parks across Montreal and as far outside the city as Morin Heights from July 14 to August 6, 2022.
The play on offer this year was part original play, part medley. Titled All Shall Be Well, the show was a discussion of the Plague in England and Europe during Elizabethan times and how it may or may not have affected Shakespeare’s writing.
There were history lessons and science lessons, all helped by a cast as easy on the eyes as it was diverse, with the actors slipping into simple but effective costumes for when they acted out scenes from Shakespeare’s various works that may have contained subtle references to outbreaks of the bubonic plague.
All Shall Be Well was a fine play, but in many respects it was a disjointed one.
The first half of the show focused heavily on the science and history of the pandemics during Shakespeare’s time, acted with a child-like enthusiasm that felt very much like an after school special. Most notable in this part was Samantha Bitonti who played adorable and excitable in a way that would easily fit among the cast of The Wiggles or any other children’s program.
The second half of All Shall Be Well was closer to what I expected of Shakespeare in the park: passionate lovers, lyrical language, some bawdiness, and portrayals of authority and grief and despair, masterfully played by Tiernan Cornford, Anton May, Andrew Joseph Richardson, and Thomas Vallières. The second half focused more on scenes from Shakespeare’s works and less on the historical context.
It’s as if the play was written knowing full well that most attendees who had brought their kids were going to leave at intermission, leaving the real Shakespeare fans behind to watch the rest. Had I known this in advance and were not there to review it, I probably would have only come for the second half of All Shall Be Well. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the first part of the show; it’s that I was acutely aware of the fact that I was not its target audience.
Though All Shall Be Well was fun, I do hope that next summer Repercussion Theatre will stick to more traditional material like Shakespeare and Molière and employ theatrical tricks within them to keep young kids interested, as they have in the past. In the meantime, this would be a fitting piece to tour schools with during the colder months.
For now, I can’t wait to see what they’ll put on next summer.