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Stratford Festival Theatre, 1974 JOHN PETTIGREW Colombo's fascinating Canadian Quotations includes only one remark by Jean Gascon. For one as articulate as M. Gascon that is somewhat surprising, and there's nothing terribly memorable about the quotation anyway. But it provides not a bad epigraph· for M. Gascon's final season as Artistic Director: "The dream of all my life was to be in a cowboy movie, to gallop across the plains on my faithful horse and shoot from the saddle. But in the end I didn't do anything like that." Canada's leading man of theatre must have been tempted to alternate at the Avon, say, a Ring Cycle or two and an Aida complete with a few herds of elephants, and to fill the Festival and Third Stages with similarly meaty fare including a Tempest starring Jean Gascon. But in fact he didn't do anything like that. He chose instead a rather modest and quiet farewell to all the greatness he has so generously displayed over his Stratford years with what must surely be the least blockbustery season ever. True, Maureen Forrester dazzled a happy few briefly at the Third Stage (how long is it, one wonders, since Miss Forrester has seen an empty seat at one of her performances ?), but the season at the Third Stage was devoted mainly to a Canadian play that few people east of Calgary had ever heard of, a good work produced with an honesty and lack of pretension that I very much admired. Over at the Avon there was a kind of old-home-week atmosphere with a wonderful romp through M. Gascon's production of Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne. which, like Sharon Pollock's Walsh at the Third Stage, didn't do the box-office it deserved . And at the Festival Theatre a season of a kind that would have been unthinkable a few years ago and that surely testifies to the growing sophistication of Stratford audiences and their confidence in the Festival, Journal of Canadian Studies involved Moliere's Imaginary Invalid, a revival of Pericles, and two of Shakespeare's earlier and less well-known works, Love's Labour's Lost and King John. Given the daring choice of programme, Stratford's twenty-second season could hardly have been as memorable as many in the past, and attendance generally seemed to be down a bit. The quality of production was, however , extremely high: for me at least Walsh and the three Gascon productions were obviously first-class, and the King John and Love's Labour's Lost eminently respectable and frequently brilliant. Of the four Festival Theatre productions, the revival of the Gascon Pericles was unquestionably the finest - I went on and on about this production last year and can therefore now be uncharacteristically brief (for which relief, your thanks). Disappointingly , the production was the least successful at the box-office, and failed to attract the hordes of children I'd hoped to see enjoying it. There were a few extremely minor changes: Diana had been deprived of her bow, Thaliard never made it to Tyre and was not seriously missed, Gower no longer informed us about an Escanes whose lines had been cut. There were significant changes in casting: William Needles' Simon-ides and Dawn Greenhalgh's Dionyza were most acceptable but could hardly have matched the definitive performances of Tony van Bridge and Angela Wood in 1974, and changes among the brothel denizens slightly lessened the power of that wonderful mixture of the ludicrous and the horrific in the brothel scenes. But the very slight failings-off here were more than compensated for by even stronger performances in the leading roles by actors who had perhaps come to feel the play's strengths and to trust its stageworthiness more firmly than in its earlier run; Douglas Rain, for instance, while still striking me as an excessively cold and fishy Lysimachus, seemed more at ease in an unrewarding role that he yet made strangely vivid and memorable. Like thousands of 49 others, I'm grateful to Stratford for reviving a production that I not only admired but deeply loved - is it remotely possible that...


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