Theatre @ York presents a sparkling new adaptation of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, a hilarious parody by 17th century playwright Francis Beaumont, re-imagined for contemporary audiences by director Timothy Askew. Lavish period costumes, romance, treachery and sword-fighting lay siege to York University's Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre January 20 to 26.
Originally performed in 1607 by the Children of the Blackfriars, a leading troupe of boy performers in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, the show was a famous flop at its premiere but has since gained a loyal following.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle is a play-within-in-play that satirizes the traditional chivalric romance as well as class consciousness and social conventions. In the process, it also challenges standard notions of the nature of theatre, improvisation and spectatorship.
The play is literally hijacked by a couple in the audience who demand changes to the story and throw in a new character for good measure. The actors transition between rehearsed and improvised scenes within multiple rollicking plot lines that keep the audience guessing till the very end. Viewers are invited to reconsider their conceptions of exactly what is real, and what is 'mere' theatre.
"By examining the conventions of theatre, we ask why theatre matters and how live performance relates to audiences now," said Askew. "What's the difference between attending a live show and watching television at home?
"In this play, Beaumont is also playing with the commercial relationship between the audience and the entertainers, taking the idea of 'singing for one's supper' to an absurd level. Is the customer in fact always right?"
Askew sees The Knight of the Burning Pestle as a 'forefather of post-modern comedy'. "I see its influence in The Wizard of Oz, in Michael Frayn's Noises Off and in the madcap world of Monty Python," he said.
Askew is an MFA directing candidate in York University's Graduate Program in Theatre. He previously spent 11 seasons with the Stratford Festival, initially as a member of the 1999 class of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training, followed by professional work ranging from actor and fight captain to casting associate, interim associate in the dramaturgy department, and associate director for Richard Monette.
Askew's honours include the Joan Chalmers Playwriting Award, Derek F. Mitchell Artistic Director's Award, Jean Gascon Director's Award, and Tyrone Guthrie Award. His most recent directing credits include Sweeney Todd and the Toronto premiere of Curtains at the Al Green Theatre, Toronto.
In Knight of the Burning Pestle, Askew directs a lively young cast drawn from York's Graduate Program in Acting and the undergraduate Devised Theatre and Theatre Studies streams. A talented creative team of undergraduates is handling all aspects of the production design and execution.
Each year, Theatre @ York mounts a challenging and entertaining slate of plays, featuring some of Canada's most promising performance and production talent. Established in the Department of Theatre at York University in 1969, it has been a springboard for a generation of outstanding Canadian theatre artists. Theatre @ York alumni include stage and screen actors Rachel McAdams, Thom Marriott, Tamara Bernier, Patrick Galligan, Melody Johnson, Deborah Hay, Maurice Dean Wint and Christine Horne; playwrights Djanet Sears and Diane Flacks; and directors Richard Rose and Jillian Keiley.
What: Theatre @ York presents The Knight of the Burning Pestle directed by Timothy Askew
When: January 20 to 26, opening Tuesday, January 22
Schedule: Previews January 20 and 21 at 7:30pm, opens January 22 and runs to January 26 at 7:30pm nightly, plus matinees January 23 and 25 at 1pm.
Where: Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre, Centre for Film and Theatre, York University, 4700 Keele St. Toronto | Map
Admission: $17 | students & seniors $12 | Previews $5
Box Office: 416.736.5888 or online