Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project
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The Stratford Adventure

The Stratford Adventure is a documentary describing the history of the first Stratford Festival in 1953. Stratford native, Tom Patterson dreamed of creating a Shakespearean Festival in his hometown and, after putting together a committee of other interested townspeople, asked Tyrone Guthrie, the famous producer at the Old Vic Theatre in London, to consult on the venture, and direct the plays. A fund was set up, an Elizabethan stage was built under an enormous tent, and English actors Alec Guinness and Irene Worth were signed to perform alongside Canadian actors in Richard III and All's Well That Ends Well. The Stratford Festival was a huge successs and is now the largest Shakespeare Festival in North America.

Alex Guinnes in Richard III from 1953
Alec Guinness in Richard III from 1953

The documentary is itself a Canadian adaptation. Stratford, and Canada by metonymy, is presented as an idyllic 1950s town located along the Avon River, with gardens, church groups, row boats and birds singing in the trees. This romanticised setting and Shakespeare are thoroughly entwined to create an imaginary Canada, culturally grounded with his "goodness" and "beauty," which allows for the festival's success--Shakespeare's invisible hand brings it all together.

Alex Guinnes in Richard III from 1953
Alec Guinness in Richard III from 1953

Alex Guinnes in Richard III from 1953
Alec Guinness in Richard III from 1953

 

Video Clip: "Tom Patterson."

Tom Patterson, a native of Stratford, dreams of establishing a Shakespearean theatre in his hometown and talks to two men in a row boat.

Video Clip: "Alec Guinness."

Alec Guinness gives a lesson on breath control when performing Shakespeare. The young man to whom he gives advice is none other than Timothy Findley who was probably about 23 at the time. Findley went on to become one of Canada's most inventive writers and authored his own Shakespearean adaptation, Elizabeth Rex.

Video Clip: "Tyrone Guthrie."

Tyrone Guthrie directs the entrance of the ghosts in Richard III (5.5). Note the interruption of the rehearsal by that quintessential Canadian sound, a train whistle going by (and Guthrie's visible annoyance).

Video Clip: "Battle Scene from the Opening Night of Richard III, 1953."

This clip shows how elaborately designed and choreographed Guthrie's battle scenes were. It is amazing to see so many people in so small a space, swinging weapons.

The Stratford Adventure. Dir. Morton Parker. The National Film Board of Canada, 1954

The Stratford Adventure
The Stratford Adventure

See also the Historica Minute devoted to Stratford.


National Film Board of Canada/Office National du Film du Canada

The first published Program of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, starring Alec Guinness and Irene Worth.

Link to The Stratford Festival of Canada


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