Your Guide to Shaw Festival 2015: An Urbanite’s Weekend Escape

Posted: Aug 07 2015

Ready to get out Toronto for a night or two to recharge? Check out our guide to Shaw Festival 2015 to find out why it's perfect for an urbanite's weekend escape!

Summer is in full swing and with the PanAm Games officially closed, it’s a great time to get out of the city for a night or two to recharge. Equipped with a pair of tickets to Pygmailon at the Shaw Festival, we sent our arts and culture aficionado Michelle Pinchev to wine country for a weekend escape of theatre, relaxation, dining and wine in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake.


Driving form Toronto to the Niagara Region takes roughly 2 hours, including traffic and a lunch stop. It's really not so bad so long as you've got a companion with you and the tunes blaring as you cruise along the highway, following the lake views the entire route. Of course if you're a city kid sans driver's license, or simply prefer not to get behind the wheel when you're headed to wine country, the Greyhound Bus is always a convenient option to take you to the region. There are plenty of bike rentals available to help you get around town and visit the wineries once you arrive in Niagara-On-The-Lake.


Before arriving at our hotel, we made a quick stop at Peller Estates, where we were treated to some wine tasting and toured the facilities, walking among the vines and taking in the breathtaking scenery. Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of Canada’s premiere wine-growing and agricultural regions, with over 30 wineries in the area, ranging from small family-run shops to large estates.


NOTL is also quickly becoming a culinary hotspot, attracting foodies from around the region – and the world. Farm-to-table restaurant Ravine Vineyard lures guests with freshly baked bread, along with dishes featuring their our own certified organic vegetables and farm raised pigs. Through the summer, visit The SupperMarket for food trucks, oysters, cheese, local produce, live music, and libations from local wineries.


The main strip in Niagara-on-the-Lake is quite different from the street in Toronto of the same name. NOTL’s Queen Street is lively in its own way, but things move at a slower pace – and that’s a good thing. The street is lined with gift shops selling artisanal goods and quaint little restaurants and cafés  - and the preferred mode of transportation is horse and carriage.

Of course, no visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake is complete without a quick stop at COWS, a PEI-based ice creamery that is as fun to visit as their ice cream is delicious.   

Just off the strip is the Old Angel Inn; established in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815 after the war, it’s Ontario’s oldest operating inn. It’s also the site of a fun pub with live music, so we stopped for a quick pint and grub.


We wanted to make the most of our short trip, so we stayed at an old favourite – Vintage Hotels’ Pillar and Post. An under 15 minute walk from the main strip, we opted for the Pillar and Post on account of its 13,000 square foot indoor and outdoor spa. The beautiful, vintage building is filled with antiques, classical artwork and Victorian touches.

Our first order of business upon arrival was hitting up the spa for massages and a soak in the outdoor “hot springs.” The week just melted away.

The next day we spent the morning and early afternoon lounging by the gorgeous outdoor pool. We ordered lunch and cocktails and ate poolside – the food by Chef Mark Longster's Cannery Restaurant was phenomenal.

Shaw Festival – Pygmalion

The real reason we were there – after we were sufficiently sun kissed, we got dolled up and made our way to the Shaw Festival to see Pygmalion!

The Shaw Festival is a theatre company inspired by the work of legendary playwright, George Bernard Shaw. Featuring internationally-recognized actors and plays by its namesake Bernard Shaw among other celebrated playwrights, this season’s 12-play lineup kicked off May 31st and runs straight through to November 1st.

Bernard Shaw’s plays were considered provocative in his era, exploring issues of society, class and humanity. Today, a not-for-profit organization, the Shaw Festival’s productions bring those stories to life with contemporary adaptations by some of today’s leading play directors.

Peter Hinton’s adaptation of Pygmalion is one of the most buzzed-about plays at Shaw Festival this season. It’s the story of a snobbish and arrogant Phonetics Professor (Higgins) who crosses paths with a “common” girl (Eliza Doolittle) selling flowers in the streets of London – despite her rough “cockney” manner of speech, Higgins makes a bet that he can transform the girl and pass her off as a duchess. If it you don’t know the play but the story sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of My Fair Lady, the classic Audrey Hepburn film which was also inspired by Pygmalion.

Originally written by George Bernard Shaw in the 1940s, Pygmalion was wildly successful and has stood the test of time through the decades. But what was particularly exciting about this production is that Peter Hinton’s adaptation is the first time at the Shaw Festival that the play is done set in modern times – so while the dress and set were unmistakably modern, the script was the same. The juxtaposition added interest, but also highlighted how truly timeless the story is, and that issues of class struggle and social mobility still resonate with audiences.

Hinton’s adaptation gave the play a refreshing update, full of suprirses like music by Kanye West and Janet Jackson and a drool-worthy wardrobe that evokes Vivienne Westwood and the contemporary London scene.

The actors turned in top-notch performances – Harveen Sandhu shines as the crass and charming Eliza Doolittle, and watching her transformation unfold on stage was pure magic.  Patrick McManus was brilliant, stealing the show with a high-energy rendition of Professor Higgins, a character you love to hate.

If you’re looking for an urban getaway, love food and wine, and enjoy the theatre, the Shaw Festival is a must-do item on your summer itinerary. Check out their amazing lineup of plays this season HERE.

Have fun!!
(Article contributed by Michelle Pinchev)
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