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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Theatre review: Miss Shakespeare takes aim at feminism and the arts with great results

Feminism, fun and a little history lesson collide in Miss Shakespeare, proving that creators Tracey Power and Steve Charles are indeed a force to be reckoned with as part of the growing Canadian musical theatre landscape.

Miss Shakespeare asks the question ‘what if’ William Shakespeare’s daughter Judith had the same literary passion as her father. Rebelling against the idea that women were not permitted on stage at the time, she gathers a small group of women in her soon-to-be husband’s tavern basement to rehearse and perform. Beginning with works by other writers, Judith goes a step further by writing her own play, which the women ultimately decide to perform on stage, secretly disguised as men.

Power has gathered a diverse group of imagined and real woman of the time in this piece of historical fiction, each representing either a part of Judith’s life or representing some of the plights that women faced at the time. To reveal too much of those characters though would take away much of the show’s fun (and surprises).

Director James MacDonald has gathered a superb cast. Standouts include Susinn McFarlen as the show’s narrator, who also pops in from time-to-time as Judith’s more famous father; her big reveal at the end of the show points to the cleverness of Power’s book. Pippa Mackie is a powerhouse in the role of Hannah, the bastard child who manages to insert herself into the merry band of female actors and Medina Hahn brings a devastating mix of grace, humour and sadness to one of the shows best numbers,”Tumbling”. The rest of this fine ensemble – Caroline Cave, Amanda Lisman, Erin Moon and Tracey Power – all do terrific work.  That these women are also performing in the repertory production of J. Caesar is a credit to their skills.

While the advance press and our recent interview with Power indicated that the music co-written with Steve Charles was inspired by underground European cabaret, the reality is a little different as Charles pulls from a number of different genres. It takes a couple of moments to reconcile the time period with the musical genres, but once you surrender it has a wonderful feel to it. In fact, the entire show is wrapped inside a world that straddles a line between reality and imagination, which seems somehow fitting for a show about Shakespeare’s daughter.

Power’s lyrics delve into the sophomoric at times, especially as the cast sings about men’s asses and “pizzles”, but even as they are a bit crass they do bring focus to the issue of sexism by turning the table on the male species. Indeed, Power’s thematic exploration of sexist attitudes of the time is an indictment of our modern world, highlighting the fact that even in our more supposedly enlightened age, we still have a long way to go.

Power goes one step further in her exploration of sexism with a lens on the arts. Claiming in her program notes a 70/30 split dominated by men in the arts today, Power asks whether after 400 years, is that 30% enough? While her answer in Miss Shakespeare fails to go beyond the obvious, it does serve as an important discussion point post-show.

Cory Sincennes brings a wonderful representation of The Cage tavern cellar to the sometimes awkward Performance Works space, and Barbara Clayden’s costumes are spot-on with their monochromatic palette.

The powerhouses behind Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, the duo of Tracey Power and Steve Charles appears to be unstoppable. Things are looking up for Canada’s contribution to the musical theatre genre.

Miss Shakespeare with book and lyrics by Tracey Power and music co-written with Steve Charles runs in repertory with J Caesar May 5-17 at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island) May 5-17 and The Kay Meek Centre (1700 Mathers Ave, West Vancouver) May 21-29. Tickets are available through Tickets Tonight. Visit for more information.


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