Classic Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes characters, a 1956 Broadway classic and two plays based on ancient Chinese stories highlight the 2024 season at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival, just announced last Thursday.
“You will see My Fair Lady, one of the few perfect musicals; One Man, Two Guvnors, the funniest show on the planet; and a new Sherlock Holmes,” artistic director Tim Carroll said in a news release. “There’s also Shaw’s Candida, and two Canadian premieres, including Marcus Gardley’s The House that Will Not Stand.”
It kicks off on April 6 at the Royal George Theatre with Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, directed by Alistair Newton.
Adapted from the master mystery writer’s short story Traitor’s Hands, it’s a suspenseful puzzle regarded as one of her great stage mysteries. The story revolves around the murder of a wealthy widow. Her handsome, charming, and much younger gentleman friend becomes, of course, the obvious suspect. It’s full of clever twists, shocking revelations and mounting tension.
The same could be said for Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Human Heart, previewing at the Festival Theatre on July 24.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective is at the centre of a brand new work by Reginald Candy, in which Holmes faces a villain so clever he may have finally met his match. Next year’s run will mark the third time for the well-known Holmes character and his confidante Dr. Watson to walk the Shaw floor.
“We hear a lot from our audiences about how much they love the tension and the sleuthing they are able to do themselves,” says associate artistic director Kimberly Rampersad of the two mysteries. “In a way it’s an articulation of what TC (Tim Carroll) calls two-way theatre. They like that natural interaction.”
Rampersad and Carroll will be co-directing My Fair Lady, the musical based on Shaw’s own Pygmalion. The Lerner and Loewe adaptation was last done at Shaw in 2011.
“It’s time to bring Eliza Doolittle back,” Rampersand tells The Local. “Our audiences have been asking for it. It’s a beautiful musical, big and sweeping. The music is so gorgeous, and our music director Paul Sportellli always does such beautiful orchestrations.”
As Carroll’s associate, Rampersad worked on the upcoming season’s playbill with him. She likens her role as that of a senator, providing sober second thought as the pair bounce ideas off of one another.
On their co-directing relationship for My Fair Lady, she jokes that it is more like a mom and dad arguing at times.
“We have had a great working relationship,” says Rampersad. “Our first time working together was when I was an assistant director on (2017’s) Androcles and the Lion. We had a dynamic and fun time working on that play. I think we both crave being in a creative space together, too.”
In the vein of this year’s Prince Caspian, Jay Turvey directs another family-oriented production, The Secret Garden, opening in June, 2024.
“We think it’s so important that we offer incredibly intelligent pieces for young people in particular,” Rampersad says. “The Secret Garden is such a beautiful piece, and Jay Turvey, who directed our musical (Gypsy) this year, is such a wonderful and gifted artist.”
Known by many as the Chinese Hamlet, The Orphan of Chao is one of the oldest plays in the Chinese canon. The Shaw production, opening June 13 at the Royal George, is an adaptation of the revenge tale created by Shaw ensemble member Michael Man.
“Calling it the Chinese Hamlet is a way to make a parallel to what Hamlet means to the English culture and what this means to the Chinese culture,” explains Man. “The story itself is not all that similar, though it is epic in nature, and there is a massacre that happens. And it questions the bonds between parent and child, too.”
Man says he was originally asked to write a translation, but felt that he wouldn’t be able to add any value to the many translations already out there. Instead, he suggested an adaptation, with the two-fold goals of both reinterpreting the 13th century Chinese drama form for a Western theatrical sensibility, and renewing the context of the tale in today’s society.
“I feel a great sense of honour to have an opportunity and a platform to share this with audiences,” Man says. “I remember telling my folks about this and how excited they were to hear I was doing it. My goal, my barometer for success is to be able to make them proud when they come and see it.”
Another classic Chinese tale, The Injustice of Dou E That Moved Heaven and Earth, comes to Shaw in the form of Snow in Midsummer, appearing at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre beginning Aug. 8. Adapted from a 13th century drama from the Yuan Dynasty, this reimagined work is part ghost story, part murder mystery and part family drama.
Elsewhere, the Spiegeltent is back for 2024, with a number of unique performances that will continue the trend begun during the pandemic of tapping the varied talents of the members of the Shaw ensemble. The lineup there includes a cabaret, a variety show and two musical revues.
“So many of the audience members and our company spoke about the beauty of the Spiegeltent this year,” Rampersad says. “It’s such a relaxed atmosphere for theatre. We have some really dynamic programming there for 2024.”
Also returning for 2024 are the coffee concerts, jazz speakeasies, gospel choir performances and intimate and interactive songbook events. And A Christmas Carol, directed by Ryan G. Hinds, returns to the Royal George in November.
Shaw’s 2024 season begins April 6 and runs until Dec. 22. For tickets and information visit shawfest.com/2024-season.