Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay (photo credit: David Hou)
All Things Sort So Well
Stratford’s Much Ado is a fantastic romp
by Stuart Munro and Dave Ross
Much Ado About Nothing has long been one of our favourite Shakespearean comedies, thanks in large part to the 1993 film version which helped introduce us to the bard. As such, we both had high expectations for Stratford’s production of the famous comedy, and we were not disappointed.
Stuart Munro: I was impressed right as the lights were going down and we heard a soundscape of a battleground. It’s not made explicitly clear in the text that some sort of civil war has just ended, and I appreciated this gentle reminder that our main characters are all returning from battle. The lights came up on the sweeping staircase of Santo Loquasto’s Brazilian inspired set, and Robert Thomson’s gentle lighting always made it seem as though sunlight were streaming through some unseen overhead foliage. The stage was always lush and warm.
Dave Ross: My only criticism of the set would be that large staircase winding downstage left which may potentially restrict the view of patrons on that side of the theatre. (In fact, friends of ours on that side commented they had a hard time understanding the dialogue on occasion.) Most of the action is set downstage which mostly mitigates the problem.
SM: What I loved most about this production was how every character was given a real chance to shine. Even the supernumeraries get their own plot told entirely wordlessly during the scene transitions. I feel like I have a clear memory of every person with more than a line or two of dialogue. Director Christopher Newton and company have done all they can to make the comedy come first, which for this play is just fine.
DR: I very much enjoyed Deborah Hay’s Beatrice; her petite size in no way hampered her ability to dominate the stage when she was on it. While the way she carried herself sometimes made her seem almost Lucille Ball-like, Ms. Hays handled the slapstick elements of the staging just as effortlessly as her Shakespearean text, and is especially adept in her sparring with Benedick.
SM: I loved Ben Carlson’s Benedick, though I’m generally a fan of his work. He looked like some sort of jaded gold prospector in his unassuming entrance, and his dry wit garnered laughter on almost every line, but never in a way that cheapened the material. While he may be less effective in the sparring scenes with Beatrice, Mr. Carlson truly shines once he discovers his love for her. Conversely, Tyrone Savage as Claudio stood out in his scenes as a matchmaker with the other men, and his anger during the dramatic wedding scene was especially terrifying. Only in his second season at the festival, I hope to see more of Mr. Savage in the future.
DR: Bethany Jillard as Hero, while every bit as beautiful as one expects Hero to be, was unable to translate that beauty into her performance. Many of her lines were simply stood and delivered and she often seemed uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the text. Her performance never really takes off, whether she’s falling in love with Claudio or attempting to snare Beatrice in a romantic trap. Even her movements seemed somewhat robotic at times. It’s too bad that her scenes with Claudio never had the warmth they should have.
The use of Brazilian piano music throughout leant the production an air of South American authenticity.
SM: Two other nods have to go to Juan Chioran as the prince, Don Pedro, and Gareth Potter as his scheming brother, Don John. I saw Chioran play Benedick a few years ago in Toronto’s High Park, and it was a real treat to see him take on a different character. He always capably leads a scene when needed, and steps back when not the focus. Potter’s Don John was a fantastic sort of melodrama villain, and I could almost see him twirling his mustache while he plotted his intrigue.
DR: I was impressed by the use of live music via two different on-stage pianos played by Victor Dolhai and Carl Danielson, both talented actor/musicians. The use of Brazilian piano music throughout leant the production an air of South American authenticity.
SM: If I had to criticize anything, I would say that, at times, the comedy overshadowed the more dramatic moments, including a few points in the wedding. I also felt some of the scene transitions allowed the otherwise fast pacing to lag a little.
DR: I would agree. But this is Shakespearean romantic comedy delivered incredibly well. Fans of the play are in for a real treat.