With its 27th season in full swing, patrons new and old alike have been lining up in front of the wrought iron fences and white tents to see the players of Bard on the Beach. With two of Shakespeare’s greatest works, Merry Wives of Windsor and Romeo and Juliet on the mainstage, the season was anticipated to be a good one.
While the costumes were gorgeous, the opening night of Romeo and Juliet did not wow. The production failed to differentiate itself from other retellings of this evergreen story. When a story has been told as many times and in as many different ways as Romeo and Juliet, you had better have something new to offer spectators if you are looking for the standing ovation.
Everyone is familiar with the plot of Romeo and Juliet: two young and foolish lovers end up dead because of their actions. This traditional interpretation of the text exuded a staleness that many productions of this play have been plagued with. Not a lot can be said about the production because it fails to stand out from other adaptations. What saved the performance was the unbelievably charismatic cast. Despite the lacklustre adaptation, the cast delivered a beautiful performance by engaging with the audience and delivering the emotion and humour needed to balance this tragic story.
But this mediocre production begs the question: why do we bother with Bard on the Beach? And to this, the answer is simple. Bard on the Beach is about the experience, not the individual productions.
Located on the edge of Vanier Park in Vancouver, the set always includes a big opening so that patrons can catch a glimpse of the cityscape, the beach, and setting sun during evening performances. While this can lead to a chilly performance, it also creates a truly unique backdrop for classic stories.
The Bard village located in between the two stages and entrance also adds to the undeniably comfortable and enjoyable atmosphere. The concession sells local wine and beer and a variety of tasty snacks, but it’s the beautiful twinkling lights and flower arrangements that make intermission feel more like a whirlwind patio pitstop than a break between acts.
I have been attending plays at Bard on the Beach for years, and there are a few that have wowed me, but there have been many others that have felt underwhelming and stale. And yet, I return every year — and I can’t imagine a summer without a trip to Vanier Park to indulge in one of these performances. I don’t come for the performance, I come for the intriguing venue and dedicated staff.
Not every play we see needs to be a life-changing one. . . mediocre productions won’t ruin the whole experience. There is a very rewarding feeling you get when you let yourself indulge in cultural experiences like theatre. The local theatre program has prided itself on being a not-for-profit source of education for patrons, and it has undoubtedly contributed to the cultural growth of Vancouver over the years. So give Bard a chance this summer, even if the play doesn’t do it for you, the ambiance and atmosphere will satisfy.