A Theatre Buff Reviews Three Plays from the Shaw Festival – 2018: The Baroness and the Pig, Stage Kiss, and Grand Hotel

Some theatrical productions get inside my mind and are hard to shake out. The Baroness and the Pig is one of those plays. I saw it in early June and thought it was excellent, but couldn’t find time to comment. It’s niggled away ever since.

The Baroness and the Pig is an unusual story about a 19th century French baroness (Yanna McIntosh) who brings a feral child, Emily, (Julia Course) into her home as her maid. Her previous maids had to leave; they were “too pretty”. Emily is far from presentable. Her clothing is tattered and soiled, her hair is stringy and dishevelled, and she is pre-verbal. In fact the sounds she makes are guttural. The baroness begins a formal training process with Emily who is inattentive in the extreme. Exasperation reigns on both sides.

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Julia Course & Yanna McIntosh. Photo by Emily Cooper.

The baron, who is referred to lovingly by his wife, is a presence in the play but never seen by the audience. We hear footsteps and a closing door that we infer to be his. Events that follow these sounds are sinister, yet his wife loves him and speaks well of him. I will not spill more beans than that!

The play ends with Emily being introduced to society by the baroness who is pleased with the results of her training. It was only then that I was hit with a bolt of understanding: all of us, not just the baroness, may be blinded by our passions and special interests to which we devote both our hearts and intellects. I had not seen that coming.

The set is stark; the acting is superb. Yanna McIntosh inhabits a space where she is both stately and anxious; Julia Course assumes the role of a feral child with wonder, surprise and fear. As I said at the outset, it will be some time before I get this play out of my head. It may require a second viewing!

A comedy that manages to be frothy and substantive is one worth seeing. Stage Kiss is  two plays cleverly done within one. The premise is that two former lovers (Fiona Byrne and Martin Happer), both actors, end up working together in a play where a kiss has been written into the script. These two have not kissed in eighteen years and when they do, memories return and feelings ignite. Relationship chaos ensues and therein lays the humour and the substance. I saw Stage Kiss as a preview performance; it’s both an engaging and entertaining examination of enduring love.

Martin Happer & Fiona Byrne. Photo by David Cooper.

Grand Hotel is a musical with choreography and costumes that will make you want to put on your best duds, polish your dancing shoes and go find a band.

Kiera Sangster & Matt Nethersole with cast. Photo by David Cooper.

The play is set in post WW1 Berlin in a hotel where the rich and famous come to stay with kindred spirits. There are exceptions and therein lies the story. We have an addicted Colonel Doctor (Steven Sutcliffe), a baron (James Daly) who is being pursued by a loan shark’s goon (Jeff Irving), a ballerina (Deborah Hay) who is doing her eighth farewell tour, a mogul (Jay Turvey) whose financial empire is about to fall apart, a pregnant secretary (Vanessa Sears) who aspires to movie stardom, a dying man (Michael Therriault) who wants to spend his last days in luxury, the ballerina’s companion (Patty Jamieson) who loves her, a concierge (Travis Seetoo) whose wife is in labor, and a predatory hotel manager (Jeremiah Sparks). Add a gun, some thefts, spectacular dance numbers and you may do what the audience I was part of did—give a standing ovation.

The Baroness and the Pig is playing at the Shaw Festival’s Jackie Maxwell Theatre, until October 6, 2018.

Stage Kiss is playing at the Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre, until September 1, 2018.

Grand Hotel is playing at the Shaw Festival’s Festival Theatre until October 14, 2018.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love.