Although the main theatre in Stratford is called the Festival Theatre, there are actually four theatres where you can see live plays during the season. I was in Stratford for a few days this past June and saw three plays in two of the theatres. We booked tickets for Crazy for You at the Festival Theatre a couple of months in advance. This is the big theatre by the river. It is shaped like a tent with a crown on the top. There are gardens around the theatre and a wonderful gift shop across the parking lot where you can buy merchandise from all the plays on offer during the season. One particularly interesting item was jewelry made from old costumes. We bought tickets for the other plays on the days of performance and were able to take advantage of 2 for 1 ticket offers for Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Crazy for You is a lively musical comedy about saving a theatre in the American mid-west. Our seats were higher up than some others so we had a really good view of the footwork for the dance routines that had everyone awake and toes tapping all evening. That is more than can be said for King John (think Magna Carta) which we saw one hot afternoon. Maybe it was the weather or maybe it was the dark and dismal plot of war, excommunication, rebellion and assassination, but I did see a couple of people nodding off. We saw this play in the Tom Patterson theatre which is also by the river, however it is much different in style than the Festival Theatre. The Tom Patterson theatre is an old badminton court. It has high ceilings and the stage is a runway out into the crowd. It is the smallest venue on offer and there is not a bad seat in the house. We saw Mother Courage in the same theatre on the last evening I was in town. It also is a depressing story about a mother trying to protect her family during the Thirty Years War. However it was as well acted and enjoyable as King John.
A treat for me was seeing Tom Rooney in Crazy for You. I recognized him from years ago in Saskatchewan when he used to perform in the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan plays in Saskatoon and at the Globe Theatre in Regina. Now he is one of the mainstays at the Stratford Festival. One of my favourite scenes is when Rooney, as a drunk Bela Zangler, and Josh Franklin, as Bobby Child masquerading as Bela Zangler, are on the stage together. Zangler does not know Child has been pretending to be him and Child mirrors Zangler’s drunken antics to make Zangler believe he is looking in a mirror. A stellar example of physical comedy and one of the funniest parts in the play!
Prices vary between plays and musicals and depending on the seats chosen but there are concessions for seniors. The Avon Theatre and the Studio Theatre are both downtown. Stratford is small enough that you can easily dine downtown then walk to the river to the Tom Patterson or the Festival Theatre within 20 minutes to a half an hour. In addition to information about the plays, the festival website has recommendations for accommodation and dining.
If you are staying in Toronto but want to venture to Stratford for the day or longer, there is a bus from the Intercontinental Hotel on Front Street specifically for the festival theatres. At $20 for a return trip it is a bargain. All you need is proof (i.e., theatre tickets) that you are attending a play. Check out the Stratford Direct Bus link on the festival website.