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A First World War-set Henry V is coming to the Shaw Festival

It’s astounding. Time is fleeting.

No sooner have the Shaw and Stratford festivals opened the shows in their current seasons than attention turns to what’s in store in 2018. Both institutions announced upcoming programming this week.

For those who think of Stratford as a bastion of high culture, its programming of The Rocky Horror Show jumps out. What drew artistic director Antoni Cimolino to this perennial countercultural favourite? “The movie came out when I was 15 or 16 and it pushed the boundaries,” says Cimolino. “It was mind-expanding and so much fun.”

Cimolino says he’s been thinking about producing it for years. This year, egged on by his 21-year-old daughter, he decided to leap: “It’s time for a Time Warp.”

He would not be drawn on the short list of actors in place for the lead role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, played in the film by Tim Curry, but did confirm that the performer will be Canadian.

“Enough’s enough,” says Cimolino, who will direct the production. “There are vehicles for Bill Hutt and Christopher Plummer in the later days of their careers. We don’t have that for our actresses. Martha is a powerhouse and a magician; she creates that rough magic onstage that Prospero talks about. She inspires people and we need to celebrate our senior artists.”

Carroll, known for his original practices style of Shakespeare direction — from 2013’s Twelfth Night and Richard III in New York City starring Mark Rylance to Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festival — will co-direct Henry V with Kevin Bennett (who directed The Madness of George III at the Shaw this year, drawing mixed reviews) in the Jackie Maxwell Studio.

“I certainly don’t think the world needs more Shakespeare in general, so you have to have a very strong reason to add another Shakespeare to the roster,” Carroll said, describing his idea for Henry V as a play-within-a-play performed by First World War soldiers for each other in the trenches.

“It suddenly struck me that it’s Shakespeare’s most Shaw-like play and it’s certainly a good opportunity to do a Shakespeare as Shaw might have reimagined it.”

Carroll says he has no plans to make Shakespeare a continued presence at the Shaw.

The small venue for the Shaw Festival’s first Shakespeare marks a new role for the Studio Theatre, named after Carroll’s predecessor, Maxwell, this year.

Henry V is one of three plays programmed there in 2018, whereas usually it only holds one (including this year’s critical favourite, Will Eno’s Middletown).

Joining Shakespeare in the Studio Theatre are two new Canadian plays: a 19th-century Paris-set comedy The Baroness and the Pig by Michael Mackenzie, directed by Selma Dimitrijevic; and a Chekhov adaptation through a South Asian immigrant lens by Sarena Parmar, The Orchard (After Chekhov), directed by Parmar’s husband, Ravi Jain.

About the latter, Carroll says, “I find it exactly the kind of European classic I would like to do while I’m here, which is not just trot out another production of The Cherry Orchard — Chekhov must be up there with Shakespeare in terms of how often he comes around — but one that really has something fresh to say about it.”

Extra productions in the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre came about because of a conundrum with the Court House Theatre, facing accessibility issues with several flights of stairs. The Court House will no longer hold theatrical productions, and instead be used for rehearsal space, training and education, and audience programs, including classes in which audience members can practise scenes, warm-ups, vocal exercises and choreography that are part of the shows they are about to see.

This is a continuation of Carroll’s two-way theatre approach, implemented in his first season with shows like Androcles and the Lion and Wilde Tales, and the Secret Theatre program, which surprised audiences with unannounced acts in non-traditional venues. Secret Theatre will return in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Royal George also has an esteemed role in 2018 as the only place to catch the work of the festival’s namesake.

Philip Akin will direct a double bill of Shaw one-acts, How He Lied to Her Husband and The Man of Destiny, titled Of Marriage and Men: A Comedy Double-Bill. That is joined by another lesser-known Shaw satire, O’Flaherty V.C., directed by Kimberley Rampersad.

The latter is part of the Shaw’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, along with another Royal George production, Oh What a Lovely War, directed by Peter Hinton. The 1963 British musical uses wartime songs developed by Joan Littlewood and her U.K. company the Theatre Workshop, based on a radio play by Charles Chilton.

A contemporary addition from American playwright Sarah Ruhl will also appear at the Royal George: her recent play Stage Kiss will be directed by Anita Rochon.

Carroll’s production of A Christmas Carol will also return next winter season. Its premiere is coming up in a few months.

It has already been announced that British actor and writer Stephen Fry will take to the Festival Theatre stage with Mythos: A Trilogy, a series of one-man shows inspired by his book on ancient Greek myths, also directed by Carroll.

Joining Fry at the Festival Theatre is the musical Grand Hotel directed by Eda Holmes; the stage version of the Sherlock Holmes classic The Hound of the Baskervilles, directed by Craig Hall; and Carroll taking the director’s chair once again for C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, the prequel to the Narnia series, with which Carroll has experience.

He directed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Stratford Festival in 2016.