The Years That Followed Canada preview: Niagara-on-the-Lake

 In Diary, News

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, July 11th 2016

We arrive at Niagara-on-the-Lake around one o’clock on a beautiful blue and sunny day. We have our tickets for Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Court House Theatre – a matinee performance that starts at two o’clock.

The pace in this tranquil town is sedate. Everything feels quiet and fresh; the floral displays are a delight; the theatre – goers look eager, purposeful as they queue at the box office to collect tickets for the afternoon’s performance.

I don’t know what to expect.

I only know what I have read about the Shaw festival in this Ontario town: about its humble beginnings in the early sixties; about its exponential growth over the decades; about its theatre festival season that lasts, astonishingly, from May until October every year.

We take our seats and the theatre fills up quickly. I’d read Uncle Vanya many years ago, but never seen it performed.

At its core, it is a play that deals with disappointed lives, with lack of self-awareness and the chaos that we can each inflict upon the other.

All the performances today are terrific: Uncle Vanya, played by Neil Barclay, is mesmerising.

There is a sense that the audience is holding its breath, waiting to see what disasters are about to befall those onstage.

The sense of suffocation, of boredom, of the characters’ desperation, is palpable. And there is also humour: sometimes black, but always with an underlying sense of the absurdity of life.

The concerns seem very modern, too: anguish at the damage being done to the environment; outrage at the predicaments of the poor, whose lives never change for the better; the greed of those who exercise power without responsibility and the endless longings of human beings for love.

The two and a half hours pass in a blur. When we emerge from the theatre, it is almost shocking to see the neat, managed, pretty surroundings of this picturesque town.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is at the centre of the wine-growing region of Canada.

There are vineyards everywhere – from huge estates to smaller, family-run businesses.

We go to Ravine Vineyard at St David’s and eat outside in the cooler air of the evening. Everything is delicious: the food, the estate wines, the atmosphere. We’re reluctant to leave at the end of a perfect, unhurried evening.

I’ve long been a fan of W.S. Gilbert’s clever lyrics – he of Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera fame – but I had no idea that he also wrote plays.

We attended an evening performance of Engaged at the Royal St George Theatre and enjoyed fast-paced, clever performances by a consummately professional cast. The satire was biting, the repartee brilliant, and the whole evening was faultless as well as relentlessly funny.

Again, the concerns are timeless: nobody is what they seem; money is an obsession; self-interest disguises itself as duty; hypocrisy abounds.

The central character, Cheviot Hill, is played by Gray Powell – one of several stunning performances.

And now I’m in Ottawa, looking forward very much to my event at Perfect Books in Elgin Street on Wednesday evening at 7 pm – an evening chatting about The Years That Followed and all things literary.

It’s a real pleasure to be invited to ‘meet and greet’ Canadian readers and I’m very grateful to Jim Sherman for his kind invitation.

Thanks, too, to Austin Comerton of the Gaelic Hour for our interview on Sunday morning the 10th July. You’ll find a link to the podcast of our interview here.

Finally, on the 22nd July, I’ll attend a literary evening at La Piazza Courtyard restaurant in Manotick, Ottawa, where I’ll again meet readers and chat about books over excellent Italian food and wine.

Until then, ciao!


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Howth LIterary Festival June 2016The years That Followed Canada preview - Perfect Books - With Helen Hansen and Jim Sherman