J. ALAN B. SOMERSET, The Stratford Festival Story. A Catalogue-Index to the Stratford, Ontario, Festival 1953-1990. Bibliographies and Indexes in the Performing Arts 8. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991. xxxvii + 316 pp, illus, US $49.95 cloth, ISBN 0-313-27804-0.


The title of Alan Somerset's The Stratford Festival Story may lead readers to expect either more or less than they get. The book is a reference work, rather than a story-book, and consists primarily of enormously valuable lists of Stratford Festival casts, productions details, and reviews, from which many stories could be constructed. The data-base from which the book is compiled is available in machine-readable form, but only in Stratford and at the University of Western Ontario. Until wider distribution is possible, this report in book-form is a useful substitute. The material is apparently presented with a high degree of accuracy, in an organized and intelligent manner, and with a liberal policy on inclusion. But the book actually eschews the challenge of constructing the (or even a) Stratford Story, while implying that 38 seasons of presumably high-quality work itself amount self-evidently to a kind of inspiring story. This emerges most clearly when Alan Somerset's commentary on his project leans most heavily towards effusive sentiment: 'The Festival continues as it began, as a great, noble and daring adventure; I feel privileged to have been able to record its achievement from 1953 to 1990 in these pages' (x). The statement assumes a narrative of continuity that is quite at odds with the disruptions and variations in quality that have undoubtedly occurred during the Festival's history. The invocations of greatness, nobility, and daring certainly capture the immediately post-colonial, post-Massey circumstances of the Festival's founding, but say little about its recent or present social and political functions. The author's grateful sense of privilege suggests an uncritical posture before an immense cultural monolith, whose quality is beyond question and may therefore be assumed.

Somerset very generously pays tribute to Michael Mullin, whose two-volume work on the British Stratford, Theatre at Stratford-upon Avon: A Catalogue-Index 1878-1978 (1980), he cites as a model. The present volume is in some ways a marked improvement on Mullin's: it is much better printed and thus easier to use, although the omission of French accents is shocking in a book about an occasionally bilingual theatre in a bilingual country. Unlike Mullin's book, it contains illustrations, although their placement bears no relationship whatever to the adjacent text, rendering them decorative rather than functional. It may be indicative of current trends at Stratford that there are three photos of Gilbert and Sullivan productions, and just two of Shakespeare.

Where the book most clearly diverges from Mullin's is in its introductory material. Mullin contextualized the data he had assembled by providing an introductory 'Stratford story' that briefly describes the British company's development through the artistic influences exerted by its artistic directors. Somerset very carefully avoids doing this. Once he has listed them, from Tyrone Guthrie to David William, he notes with regret that 'To list them thus does not acknowledge their contributions as Artistic Directors or other contributions' (xii). However, rather than then describing their artistic contributions, he briefly enumerates some of their important administrative initiatives. In this account, Robin Phillips's significance as artistic director from 1975 to 1981 is highlighted not by his innovations in programming, company building, design approaches, or the hiring of Canadian directors, but by his unsuccessful proposal for the 'Stage One' addition to the Avon Theatre, to house TV and Film facilities and a theatre school.

The book's methodology raises a few puzzles. Although it is never made quite clear, the data presented seem to be based primarily, if not entirely, on evidence available in the Festival's archives. The apparent reluctance to fill any resulting gaps seems somewhat forced. Thus, a workshop performance of Cahoot's Macbeth in 1982 omits the authorship of Tom Stoppard; the same occurs with Tom Cone's Herringbone in 1979, and Etherege's The Man of Mode in 1987. In the introduction, a list of administrators of the Stratford Film Festival ends by stating that the 1976 administrator's identity is 'unknown,' presumably because the Stratford Archives don't provide this information. A little searching elsewhere reveals that its administrator was Gerald Pratley-or he would have been, had not the Stratford Governors cancelled the 1976 Film Festival three months before it was to open.

The organization of the data makes sense most of the time, although there are occasional lapses. Tour itineraries are usually arranged chronologically, but occasionally (as in entries 114 and 115) disregard chronology in favour of geography. The 'Archives Notes' that appear at the end of some entries vary in their usefulness, and the principles for their inclusion are unclear. While it may be useful to learn that 'Stage manager's file has Battle story; script for fight routines' (13 1), it is not useful to learn that the archives contain a copy of the widely accessible book by Diana Valk, Shylock for a Summer (5).

A reference work of this kind is a proof-reader's nightmare, but my checking discovered few glitches. For some reason American playwrights seem vulnerable, Sam Shepard becoming 'Shephard' and Lanford Wilson becoming 'Langford.' It is unfortunate that one of the very few Canadian writers to have a play produced on the Festival Theatre stage should have his name mangled: Donald Lamont Jack (more commonly known as 'Donald Jack') appears in both the text and the index as 'Lamont Donald Jack.' Perhaps it is indicative of the work's general accuracy that the most serious effors I found concern the Festival's 1956 film, Oedipus Rex, which we are told was 'the first feature film made in Canada,' and was 'Filmed at Stratford.' It was in fact filmed at Lakeshore Studios in Toronto, and (as D.J. Turner's Canadian Feature Film Index, 1913-1985 documents) feature films have been made here since 1913; the Oedipus film was around the 115th. More seriously, for its cast we are referred to the 1954 stage production, with James Mason as Oedipus. If you have seen (and heard!) the film, you won't easily forget that, among several cast-changes between 1954 and 1956, Douglas Campbell had become Stratford's Oedipus.