The Niagara Blog:
The Niagara on the Lake Public Library Teams Up With Shaw Festival
Congratulations to Cathy Simpson, Executive Director of the Niagara on the Lake Public Library for more exceptional programming offered this spring and summer with three "In Conversations With..." Shaw Festival Directors, commencing with Peter Hinton (
Lady Windermere's Fan).
Peter was the Artistic Director of English Theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 2005 - 2012 and in 2009, was made an officer of the Order of Canada. At NAC, Peter was the first to offer a complete series of Canadian plays as well as the first aboriginal play. Jackie Maxwell says of Peter: "I am thrilled to have Peter Hinton at the helm of this production. Those who saw his masterful production of
When the Rain Stops Falling in 2011 will recall his skill in mixing style with explosive content - a skill he will be able to put to great use in this glittering suspenseful classic."
And of Wilde, Maxwell says, "
Oscar Wilde is at his bitingly satirical best targeting Victorian morals (especially marital) in this comic thriller that made him an overnight star." We meet rich, stunning, recently wed Lady Windermere on the day of her birthday ball when a notorious gossip drops by to announce that her new husband is betraying her - with a mysterious woman who is coming to the ball. Be ready for jealousy, intrigue, twists, turns, and massive doses of Wildean wit.
A good-sized crowd greeted Peter and Leonard Connelly (who introduced him), Shaw's "Academic Advisor" for the past 14 years, formerly from Peterborough, but who now resides in NOTL. Leonard is to be congratulated himself for his work on the detailed and informative Shaw festival programs distributed at each play.
Peter Hinton is the sort of person one could listen to all evening, replete with a vast theatrical background and insights into Oscar Wilde, having read all of his writing prior to directing the play. Of course, the Wilde witticisms abound: "Niagara Falls is the second biggest disappointment of a honeymoon." "I can resist anything except temptation." "Work is the curse of the drinking class." "Bigamy: one wife too many; monogamy: the same."
Hinton explained that "a measure of the ambition of your theatrical endeavour is the number of previews, which are a test run and a key component that allows the production to evolve." (He boasts 19.) "I was shocked and surprised when I first read the play," he exclaimed. "It has elements of farce, but it also has a unique quality and can be quite dark. An idealized marriage falls apart in 20 minutes! I was moved and enjoyed its psychological accuracy. This was Wilde's most successful play in his lifetime."
Peter values Wilde's intelligence and acute observation of people in society. "He shifts from high drama to comedy on a dime. He employs the word, 'importance' in much of his work. He asks the audience: when is it important to keep a secret? Should we have secrets from our partner? It's a play about idealism versus reality." He adds, "We discover that good people do bad acts and vice versa. Wilde makes one feel smart; we get his wit."
Hinton delighted the audience with an account Wilde's short and tragic career, ending in exile in Paris, having been jailed (in Reading) thanks to a legal case with the Marquis of Queensbury which exposed Wilde as a homosexual. "Early on, Wilde was a failure; his poetry is not that good; his tour of North America was a setup to depict him as a 'dandy,' but he was determined to be a success." We learn that his play, Salomé, was banned because of its biblical content, forbidden on stage. We learn that Wilde and his partner were first to use stage clothes for actors and to market them to the public with ads in their programs. "Life does imitate art," says Hinton.
It is obvious that Peter admires Wilde. "He wanted to be an English
Ibsen; our culture destroyed him. Homosexuality wasn't decriminalized in the U.K. until 1967!" He has set the play in the present time, and wants the audience to experience it NOW! He employs music by dandy-like Canadian
Rufus Wainwright and the sets are inspired by painters who were contemporaries of Wilde,
Whistler's famous "study in gray and black" (his mother),
John Singer Sargent (at the ball)
Paul Gauguin (Lord Darlington's room), and ending with
Mary Cassatt who painted "real, live mothers."
Thanks to Peter Hinton, we will have an enriched appreciation of Lady Windermere's Fan. The next talk will be on Monday, June 3 at 7 pm. Seating (free) is on a first come, first serve basis, and Director Blair Williams will talk about Peace in our Time, an adaptation by renowned playwright John Murrell of Shaw's play, Geneva followed by Eda Holmes (Arcadia), Shaw's Associate Artistic Director, on Monday, July 8, 7pm - 9pm speaking on the contemporary work by famed British playwright Tom Stoppard.
Niagara on the Lake Public Library: