Kitsch and culture: the two faces of Niagara.

"We're here for kitsch," say our Swiss neighbours over breakfast. They have just been to Niagara Falls where they revelled in the tackiness of the souvenir shops and entertainments - many seemingly untouched since the town's honeymoon-destination heyday in the 60s. They are shocked to learn there is a theatre festival here in Niagara-on-the-Lake and look dumb-founded when we tell them we are seeing eight plays in four days. Inspired by their enthusiasm we head out on Queen Elizabeth Way to the Falls.

Maid of the Mist boat under the Falls.
A beautiful drive past manicured lawns, grand houses and wineries which hug the Niagara river and the gorge it has carved out of the rock. Past cherry sellers and cyclists who rented their bikes back in the village and are now struggling with the humidity. When we arrive, just 20 minutes later, I'm wondering if much of it is created by the spray from the falls themselves. I hear a little boy asking his mother about the other six wonders of the world and I suddenly feel the significance of our location.

Falls photo opportunity
 The whole area feels like one giant sixties throwback with its honeymooner hotels, casinos and line-ups for boat trips. Being British we rather like the Americana feel of the place but nothing is as impressive as the falls themselves. I'm surprised by how close you can get and how dizzy I feel standing on the pavement looking at the river pouring over the falls from behind. A wide torrent which just stops in mid air.

We've heard that the town of Niagara was once run down but reinvented itself with the casinos and some chi-chi restaurants but we don't find them. There is no time. We have to get back for the curtain going up.  Just minutes later we are watching Enchanted April back in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), a play set in the 1920s about four women who escape their lives in England to holiday in Italy.  As with everything we've seen at the Shaw - we love it. I had tears rolling down my face at a moment of high farce.
What's on at the Shaw
But as I sit in the cool theatre and soak up the culture I can hardly believe earlier I was standing above Niagara Falls in a world of kitsch. Experts tell us Niagara Falls and NOTL are two separate worlds. Different demographics. It's as if no-one who goes to the falls could possibly want to go the theatre and vice-versa. I disagree. I love them both. Last night we saw Guys and Dolls. George Bernard Shaw is letting his hair down and the musical is now nestled in with the drama at the festival. Some great set pieces and Sit Down You're Rockin the Boat sung by Thom Allison as Nicely Nicely Johnson could just be the high point of the whole festival for me. But who can say. We have only seen six of our eight productions.

More on NOTL and Niagara Falls : ontariotourism
More on the Shaw Festival which runs until October/November. (Guys and Dolls until November)
Read the next blog post: What we loved about the Shaw


Popular Posts