Viola Court

If music be the food of love, play on

Siobhan McKenna  Wikipedia

Viola Court and the neighboring Diana Court, were named to carry on the Shakespearean tradition of street names in Stratford. Diana Court was named for the widow Diana in the play All's Well That Ends Well. Viola Court was named for Viola in William Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, first preformed in 1602, and published in the folio of 1623.

The beautiful Viola has been shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, and thus separated from her twin brother, Sebastian. She disguises herself as the page boy Cesario in the service of the Orsino, the Duke of Illyria. As a page boy, Viola must help Orsino woo the wealthy Countess Olivia. In the process, Viola (disguised) falls in love with Orsino. After much confusion, Orsino discovers his page is really the lovely Viola. Eventually, Orsino recognizes the quality of Viola's devotion, and marries her.

The role of Viola was first portrayed at the Stratford Festival by the internationally acclaimed Irish actress Siobhan McKenna. The year was 1957, the first season in the new Festival Theatre. The new building replaced the tent which had served for four seasons, from 1953 until 1956.

Described by critics as "one of the greatest living actresses," Siobhan (pronounced Shivawn), hoped to play Cleopatra in Stratford, but guest director Tyrone Guthrie decided on Twelfth Night. She made a triumphal first appearance in Canada as the girl whose masquerade as the boy provides the main action in the comedy.             By Stanford Dingman   

Here are three others who have played Viola in Stratford: Martha Henry, 1966; Kathleen Widdoes, 1975; and Patricia Connolly, 1980.  

Siobhan McKenna as Viola, disguised         as a male, meets Frances Hyland as Olivia,  who falls in love.

Photo: Herb Nott, Toronto, The Stratford Festival, 1953-1957. 

Tom Patterson discovers Viola for Guthrie in 1957

Festival founder Tom Patterson was on a "star-shopping trip" when he discovered Siobhan McKenna in New York. He went there to entice Julie Harris and Marlon Brando to come to Stratford. They were passed over when he saw Miss McKenna in the title role of a rave-review of Shaw's Saint Joan

In true theatrical spirit, McKenna carried on in the role of Viola even though she suffered a painful leg injury during the season. Source: Streets of Stratford, 2004

Tyrone Guthrie invited Frances Hyland to play opposite James Mason in Measure for Measure in 1954. She returned to Stratford (1955, 1957-59, 1964-57) in a variety of roles including Perdita, Desdemona, and a definitive Ophelia opposite Christopher Plummer in 1957.   Frances Hyland | The Canadian Encyclopedia