Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Dogs may rule the stage, but it is love that conquers in Bard on the Beach’s Shakespeare in Love

Vancouver's annual Shakespeare festival presents stage adaptation of Academy Award-winning film as part of its 30th season

W.C. Fields famously once said you should “never work with animals and children”. Apparently, director Daryl Cloran didn’t get the memo.

Having just finished directing the Arts Club’s production of Matilda the Musical with its large contingent of child actors, the Edmonton-based Cloran is back in Vancouver. This time he is working with a couple of dogs (and a few two-legged actors) in the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production of Shakespeare in Love.

“The dog is a wonderful part of the show but, oh my goodness, is it ever a challenge,” says Cloran with a laugh. “The script is set up in a way the dog has a very important plot point, and he needs to get on stage and execute every night. He’s not just sort of a cute dog on stage.”

Having previously directed a production of Shakespeare in Love for Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and Winnipeg’s Manitoba Theatre Centre, he knows all-to-well about the pitfalls of working with animals in this show.

“The first dog we hired an Edmonton could do the trick in the rehearsal hall, but when we got it on stage with the lights and the people, the dog got scared and couldn’t do it,” he says. “So we had to fire the Edmonton dog and hire a ‘SuperDog’ to do the show.”

While the original plan had been to use the first dog when the show moved to Winnipeg, Cloran found himself having to call the Manitoba Theatre Centre team to give them the bad news. He left it up to them to find a dog up to the challenge. Reassuring Cloran they were on it, things didn’t quite turn out as planned.

“So, when we got to Winnipeg, we had to fire the Winnipeg dog and fly the Edmonton dog to the show in Winnipeg,” he says. “So I had been through enough dog stuff that I was able to give Bard a real heads up that we really needed to go with the best dog possible.”

So far, Cloran thinks they’ve found their animal. Actually, for this Bard on the Beach production, they are not taking any chances.

“Bard has hired two dogs, so we’re alternating between the two and working with them right now, trying to teach them all the tricks,” he says.

Andrew Cownden as Launce and Gertie the Basset hound as Crab in the Bard on the Beach production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by David Blue.
It’s not the first time Bard on the Beach has welcomed a furry friend to its tents at Vanier Park. In 2017, a basset hound named Gertie stole the show in a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. No doubt this previous experience has prepared the company for what to expect this year. Photo above by David Blue: Andrew Cownden and Gertie in the Bard on the Beach production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

So, what exactly makes the dog so important in Shakespeare in Love?

As Philip Henslowe says in both this stage adaptation and 1998 movie, it is apparently “comedy, love, and a bit with a dog” that audiences really want. And Cloran is determined to provide all three in a pretty faithful adaptation of the film, which also takes advantage of it being on a stage.

“Certainly the storyline and all of the characters that you know and love from the film are there,” says Cloran. “It’s also been constructed smartly, to really take advantage of theatre and all that theatre can provide.”

Not that Cloran was ever worried about audiences being familiar with the film that not only took home seven Academy Awards, but has also raked in nearly $300 million globally.

“I think that the adaptation is really strong and so I think that people have a really great time revisiting it,” he says.

The bigger chance according to Cloran, beyond any comparisons to its source material, came from the decision to produce Shakespeare in Love in the first place.

“I think it’s a big risk for [Bard on the Beach],” he says. “This is the first time that they’ve put a show on the main stage that’s not written by Shakespeare. So to have something with the title recognition that this has, a movie that people know or have heard of, will hopefully help bring people to the theatre.”

Of course, Cloran already has some cachet with the Bard on the Beach crowd, having directed the hugely successful As You Like It last year. But don’t expect any Beatles music to make it into this production.

“It’s going to be a much more loyal adaptation, because it’s unlike Shakespeare where you can have your way with it,” he says. “This is the contemporary play, so I’m not turning the play on its head the same way we did with As You Like It.”

“At its heart it's a beautiful love story between Will and Viola, but for me it's such a love letter to the theatre." - Shakespeare in Love director, Daryl Cloran.
“At its heart it’s a beautiful love story between Will and Viola, but for me it’s also such a love letter to the theatre.” – Shakespeare in Love director, Daryl Cloran.

That isn’t to say Shakespeare aficionados are going to be out-in-the-cold though, as Cloran says there will be plenty of surprises in store for them.

“The script has so many Easter eggs in it for Shakespeare lovers,” he says. “There’s so many jokes hidden in the play. If you know the lines from different Shakespeare plays, there’s so many sort of discoveries about how moments in Romeo and Juliet might’ve been created, and that kind of thing. There’s a real joy there for Shakespeare lovers to see something contemporary, but also has that connection to Shakespeare.”

And finally, while Shakespeare in Love ticks off Henslowe’s requirement for comedy, and there is most certainly a dog (or two), it is the story of love that continues to excite Cloran about this show.

“At its heart it’s a beautiful love story between Will and Viola, but for me it’s also such a love letter to the theatre,” he says.

“It’s a celebration of ensemble, this group of misfits who come together because they believe in the power of theatre. Who build something beautiful together, and redefine who gets to participate, and make theatre all the better for it.”

Shakespeare in Love plays in repertory with The Taming of the Shrew as part of the 30th annual Bard on the Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver’s Vanier Park from June 5 through September 22. Visit for tickets and information.

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