Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

village wooing

Village Wooing At The Shaw Festival

Each season, at the Royal George Theatre, the Shaw Festival presents a short one-act play at lunchtime. This year it’s George Bernard Shaw’s rather slight two-hander, Village Wooing.

Village Wooing is a trifling piece – Shaw called it a “comedietta.” It is receiving a puzzling and egregiously over-produced rendition at the hands of director Selma Dimitrijevic.

In Village Wooing’s first scene, a man who writes guide books and a woman meet by chance on a luxurious around-the-world cruise. In scene two, they meet again in a Wiltshire grocers shop in which she is employed and she initiates a flirtation. In scene three, he has purchased the shop and she makes clear her wish to marry. A typically Shavian discussion on marriage ensues.

Village Wooing is not without its small pleasures. As a programme note by English prof Dorothy Hadfield points out, it allows Shaw aficionados to spot themes, motifs, and positions that figure prominently in several of his better known full-length works. The time can pass pleasantly enough in the hands of two competent actors and the Shaw Festival has plenty of them.

Director Dimitrijevic has decided that instead of one couple we shall have three, although only one couple will take on the roles (known only as Z and A) at any given performance. Roles are apparently assigned on a rather random basis; an usher informed me that if a performer is playing a major role in another play on a given day they will be absolved from having to play Z or A.

This tripartite arrangement was a bit of a mystery to me. In her Director’s Note Dimitrijevic hints that the device might have something to do with the theme of chance encounters. Was she perhaps inspired by last season’s production of Everybody, with its roles cast by lot? Was it necessary to find things for more company members to do so the Festival could get its money’s worth out of them?

Rather than give the four non-performing actors a day off, Dimitrijevic requires them to hang about the set, observing the main action from the sidelines, wandering about to move random props for no apparent reason, feeding the odd line to a forgetful colleague, doing odd bits (including juggling of all things), exchanging friendly smiles and winks with the audience, and in general pulling focus from the principal performers. I found all this baffling, not to mention highly distracting.

Beyata Hackborn, sets and costumes, has created a massive, lovingly detailed, and quite beautiful set that soars over the performers. But to what end? The nicely observed performance I saw would have been every bit as effective on an almost bare stage with a minimum of props. I would have preferred that some of the money spent on the Village Wooing set had been used to provide period costumes for Playboy of the Western World.

For the record, the performers are, in alphabetical order, David Adams, Kyle Blair, Julia Course, Michael Man, Kiera Sangster, and Donna Soares. Of course, there’s no way of knowing which two will be Z and A at the performance you attend.

Village Wooing is pleasant enough. It’s Shaw, after all, in the hands of performers steeped in the art of bringing his trademark wit to life. Still, I left the theatre scratching my head.

Village Wooing continues at the Royal George Theatre through October 7, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Shaw Festival website.

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