For a show that is titled Much Ado About Nothing, there is certainly a lot of wonderful 'somethings' going on in the production that opened last night at The Stratford Shakespeare Festival. This production of one of Shakespeare's most romantic plays embraces the comedic elements while still proving oddly touching when it needs to be, and perhaps most importantly, it provides a vessel for stars Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay to really shine.
The show, directed here by Christopher Newton, is set in Brazil and features a gorgeous set and some intriguing choreography. There's also musical arrangements done by Jonathan Monro which are interspersed creatively throughout the production. It tells the story of Beatrice and Benedict (Hay and Carlson) who are dueling, fiesty would-be lovers embroiled in a bit of a 'will they or won't they?' battle throughout the play. There's also a younger and more 'traditional' love story between Claudio (Tyrone Savage) and Hero (Bethany Jillard), who are set to be wed until dark forces orchestrated by villian Don John (Gareth Potter) conspire against them in traditional Shakespearean fashion.
This production excels in many ways, not the least of which are the brilliant performances of both Carlson and Hay as well as a stand-out Juan Chioran in the role of Don Pedro. Hay especially shines as the witty, sarcastic and non-conformist Beatrice, a woman who bucks the traditional idea of marriage and marches to the beat of her own drum. In this role she has embraced physical comedy in a way that I wouldn't want to spoil, but she has the audience in stitches on more than one occasion. She's brash and closed off while at the same time demonstrating a quiet vulnerability that has you rooting for love to overcome in the end. Ben Carlson proves a solid match for Hay as Benedict, a man who also echews the traditional view of marriage and seems destined to be a bachelor. Underneath the gruff exterior (and the beard) seems to lay a beating heart that actually longs to be with a woman who perhaps shares his non-traditional views. Watching the two actors play off each other is the high point of this production, as they do a 'will they or won't they' dance that Hollywood rom-coms could learn from.
Also worth watching is Tyrone Savage as lovesick Claudio, whose character would be very easy to hate if not played with a certain amount of youthful vulnerability that Savage seems to have nailed. Juan Chorian is at the top of his game as Don Pedro, commanding both the audience and his fellow actor's with a natural stage presence that is integral to such a role. Gareth Potter's villianous Don John was also intriguing to watch, as he played it with a unique social awkwardness that made him a more three dimensional villian (though I would have liked a bit more background as to the root of the awkwardness).
Much Ado About Nothing has a uniformly strong cast, and aside from minor quibbles with the production (including the decision to set it in Brazil and the somewhat misplaced tangos that occured throughout) it is a must-see interpretation of a classic work. While Hay and Carlson are definitely the two biggest reasons to visit the production, where it also shines is in its ability to embrace the comedy of the piece and showcase it in an easy to understand manner. The comedy would make this an ideal first show for a younger crowd, especially those who may not have much exposure to Shakespeare. Unlike some of his heavier work Much Ado is easy to follow, and the witty banter and physical comedy would help hold the attention of those who grew up less on 18th Century literature and more online. All in all, it's a solid production that did a wonderful job of ushering in the Festival's 60th Season.
When and Where?
Much Ado About Nothing
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival - The Festival Theatre
On now until October 27th
For more details or to purchase tickets please visit their website at www.stratfordfestival.ca