Toronto Masque Theatre’s Fairy Queen is a New Experience
17th century theatre has always been a passion of mine, but I must admit the courtly masque style slipped past my radar. Without knowing anything about what I was getting into I was unsure as to what to expect when attending Toronto Masque Theatre’s production of The Fairy Queen. What I experienced was a fun and creative blend of the past and modern experience.So what is Masque? The term occasionally used is Mini-opera, but specifically it’s a style of theatre that comes out of the courtly tradition involving chamber music, opera, dance and acting. For this production of The Fairy Queen the acting aspect was pushed to the side and the focus placed on the opera and dance, although tableaux and characterization where still a focus within the show.
One of the selling points of The Fairy Queen for me was its description as a Restoration adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Now I’m not the biggest fan of the Dream, but it’s a story we all know the basics of so I was confident I was at least going into a show I could follow along with.
The Fairy Queen isn’t quite so easy as that however. As even the show’s program explains, The Fairy Queen is more inspired by Shakespeare than adapted from him and that inspiration is based more on metaphor and theme than plot per se; at least when it comes to Toronto Masque Theatre’s production.
Set in a modern airport, the production creates more of an experience of moments than a constructed narrative: the majority of characters are unnamed and defined more by their traits and costumes than any kind of deep characterization, and the plot is very loose, almost feeling like a musical revue instead of an opera. Nevertheless the performers committed to their personal narratives very well and got me invested in their stories, short lived as they may have been.
Musically the show is loyal to original writer Henry Purcell’s vision, using classic chamber instruments and live artists to really establish that chamber music environment that masques were so often performed in (Yes I did some research after the show so I could sound like I knew what I was talking about). The music didn’t detract from the modern setting however, as the dancers of the piece incorporated ballet with a more modern hip hop edge that somehow made the music fit into the updated setting.
One thing that should be pointed out which struck me personally, staging the show at The Arts and Letters Club was a stroke of genius. The theatre space is lined with banners and tudor style windows giving the place a sense of history and culture that lends itself to the aesthetics of masque. Additionally whether intentional or just fortuitous the sun started to go down between the first and second acts, paralleling nicely the transition of day to night within the show itself.
The Fairy Queen isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea just based on its format but if you’re looking for something off the beaten track of current musicals and opera I really recommend you give it a try, it was a completely new experience for me, something that doesn’t happen often when it comes to the 17th century.
- The Fairy Queen is playing at The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto (14 Elm Street)
- Performances run May 27th, 28th and 29th, 2016
- Showtimes are 8:00 PM with a pre show chat at 7:15PM.
- Tickets are $50, $43 for 65+, $20 for 30 & under.
- Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 416.410.4561
Photo Courtesy of Michael Ruscigno