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All’s well at this year's Bard on the Beach

Modern take on classics introduces fresh faces to the stage
Bard on the Beach’s All’s Well That Ends Well, starring Sarena Parmar as Helen, is set in India during the waning days of British occupation and the Partition of India.

Bard on the Beach 30th anniversary season: Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare in Love, All’s Well That Ends Well and Coriolanus. Visit for run dates until Sept. 21.

What do a female Roman warrior, an untamed woman from the Wild West and a privileged Hindu bride-to-be have in common?

They’re all part of this year’s bold stagings at Bard on the Beach, which for 2019 takes three classic works of Shakespeare — plus one non-Shakespearean romp — and reinvents them.

Bard on the Beach is Western Canada’s largest not-for-profit, professional Shakespeare Festival that takes place annually from June to September in Vancouver’s Vanier Park. Almost 1.9 million patrons have enjoyed the Bard experience over the last 29 years.

Now in its 30th season, Bard on the Beach lives up to its reputation for taking classic works penned by William Shakespeare in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and infusing them with a contemporary flavour.

In Coriolanus, for example, the lead protagonist and celebrated Roman warrior is a woman.

“When my collaborator Robinson Wilson came to us at Bard with a pitch for a production of Coriolanus featuring a female in the titular role, I was hooked,” says director Dean Paul Gibson. “It is vital to remain committed to artistic expression that reflects the times we live in now and may live in the future.”

In Taming of the Shrew, there is no taming of Kate, a notoriously wild woman of the Wild West who goes head-to-head with her sharpshooter rival — and romantic interest — Petruchio. The pair embark on a decidedly modern relationship based on instant attraction and increased bickering as the relationship wears on.

And in All’s Well That Ends Well, the seemingly outdated plot of a lovelorn young woman (Helena) chasing after a cad of a man (Bertram) is made fresh when set against the Partition of India, which created the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan.

Sarena Parmar, who plays the lead role of Helena, is thrilled to be cast in the re-imagining of this classical work.

“I’m a real nerd for the classics, but I always feel as though they are like friends you just keep hearing about over the years. And they go through your whole life with you and sometimes they kind of get these makeovers,” Parmar says.

“I think that’s why we have such a fond connection with them [the classics], because they’re kind of in the zeitgeist, or in the back of our minds, or we read about them in high school. They’ve been with us a long time, so to see them in a contemporary setting is really familiar and exciting”

Aside from the contemporary setting, Parmar believes All’s Well That Ends Well tells a timeless tale that holds true today.

“Bertram is a bit of a problematic guy, but you know, I know so many smart, intelligent women — myself included — who have chased after the wrong guy, and sometimes you just know something in your heart that just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And sometimes your heart is right. Sometimes your heart is wrong.

“That was something that was really important to me instead of rationalizing ‘why does she go after him?’ We do this stuff all the time – guys and girls.”

Infused with South Asian song and dance, and with scenes spoken in Hindi, this version of All’s Well That Ends Well is certainly unique.

“I think the most exciting thing about it is there are so many new faces at Bard and so many South Asian artists that have an opportunity to work for this company for the first time,” says Parmar. “They’re bringing such talent and artistry to the work that they’re doing. So I’m just excited that all these new faces, and new diverse faces, get introduced to the Vancouver audiences.”

Rounding out this year’s offerings is Shakespeare in Love, the stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning 1998 film that sees young playwright Will Shakespeare struggling with writer’s block and a looming deadline. Then he finds his muse – Viola de Lesseps —who will stop at nothing (including breaking the law) to appear in his next play. Will’s love for Viola quickly blossoms but their road to romance runs into plenty of obstacles, including mistaken identity, an illicit affair and a dog.

Director Daryl Cloran’s comments on the play are also an apt description of the Bard on the Beach festival itself.

“While Shakespeare in Love is a beautiful love story, it is also the story of an ensemble of actors and outcasts coming together to defy all odds and create something beautiful,” Cloran says. “They break the rules, and reimagine who is allowed to participate in the storytelling, and the story becomes richer for it.”

For full details and tickets, visit


On stage for this season’s Bard on the Beach:

• All’s Well That Ends Well (Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre, until Aug. 11)

• Coriolanus (Howard Family Stage, Aug. 21–Sept. 15)

• Shakespeare in Love (BMO Mainstage, until Sept. 18)

• The Taming of the Shrew (BMO Mainstage, until Sept. 21)


Also check out:

• Bard-B-Q & Fireworks (July 27, July 31 and Aug. 3): Enjoy the play performance plus

dinner and entertainment.

• Wine Wednesdays

(Aug. 7 at 6 p.m.): Pre-show wine-tasting and light snacks with special guests.

• Talkback Tuesdays (through Aug. 6): Join members of the cast for lively Q&A sessions after each Tuesday evening performance.