The Freewill Shakespeare Festival provides a great excuse to get out and enjoy one of the Bard’s plays in one of Edmonton’s most beautiful parks. I adore the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park, and love seeing how the tone of the production can change depending on the weather.
Mack and I were lucky enough to get tickets to attend the show this year, courtesy of Bottom Line Productions. This year, the Company is staging Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth (set in Cold War Eastern Europe) – the latter won out as my pick this year.
Mack and I at the Festival
Back in June, I had written about a “picnic in the park” promotion the Festival had organized, offering two tickets and a $100 Sunterra gift certificate to the creator of the best picnic basket using Sunterra goods. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to participate, with the deadline for submissions falling right around the time of our move.
So although I couldn’t enter the contest, I thought our trek out to Hawrelak Park would be a good opportunity to put a picnic basket together, and have an easy dinner at the Park prior to the show. We found out later that patrons can actually order a pre-assembled basket through Sunterra, which would be delivered to the show – how cool is that?
I met Mack at the Sunterra in Commerce Place after work last Friday, and though much of the deli inventory had been devastated by the lunch crowd, we were still able to pull together a nice warm-weather supper – a chicken, cucumber and tomato baguette sandwich for me, and a beef teriyaki wrap for Mack. We supplemented our mains with drinks, chips and a strawberry Napoleon from the bakery.
The sandwiches were a bit disappointing – while there was a fair amount of chicken and vegetables, as a whole, mine wasn’t very tasty; Mack said the same thing about his wrap. They also exceeded our $5 limit for cold sandwiches.
We did better with dessert – between puff pastry, icing, pastry cream and fresh strawberries, we couldn’t lose. I am glad to have shared it with Mack though – as you can guess, it was pretty rich.
By the time we finished our meal near the ticket tent, the line-up had tripled in size. The volunteers (who were all friendly and so helpful), said they had seen much worse, particularly on Tuesdays where the price of admission is pay-what-you-will (this past Tuesday, attendance was 1,200!).
There were still plenty of good seat options by the time we were through the gates though, so our dawdling went unpunished. Settling in our seats, we got a good look at the stage: a stunning, tiered wood structure with metal accents, including a balcony, winding staircase and a fireman’s pole – talk about a modern set-up. We both also really liked the round feature at centre stage that acted as the Witches’ cauldron, and doubled as the banquet table in the scene where Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost.
As I mentioned, this production was set in Cold War Eastern Europe, which was a time period director John Kirkpatrick thought was very much in line with the original setting, rife with suspicion and corruption. While the execution didn’t work as well as we had hoped (without changing the place references – not that we are advocating doing so – the transposition seemed a bit strange), it did allow for some striking costumes, including Lady Macbeth’s dazzling black gown worn to celebrate her husband’s ascension, and ghost Banquo’s stark white dinner jacket, marred with blood (the haunting, Shining-like appearance of John Ullyatt’s Banquo is something I won’t soon forget).
Though none of the actors really blew us away (though I will always have a soft spot for Lady Macbeth, played well by Melissa MacPherson), the happiest surprise for me was to recognize Peter Fernandes up on stage in a supporting role. I had taught Peter back during my student teacher days at Louis St. Laurent (no, not in drama), and even caught one of his performances at the Citadel Theatre when he was a student in one of their development programs. It’s great to see that he has not only continued with his studies, but is also securing roles in top Edmonton productions – congrats, Peter!
The Festival is in its final weekend, with two matinees and two more evening performances. If you’re not yet ready to dive into the frenzied crowds at the Ex, Indy or Taste of Edmonton, this is a great summer alternative.