BARD ON THE BEACH, Vanier Park, Until September 23rd

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

By Penny Warwick

There is a trend in recent times that if you are putting on a Shakespeare that you need to do it differently or reinvent it, which can at worst look gimmicky and most of the time comes off as unneccesary. As one of Shakespeare’s most well known comedies Much Ado About Nothing regularly receives this overhaul, thankfully the strong stylised choice which transports the story to a film set in Italy in the fifties at Bard this year works to almost complete perfection. Clearly all of the creative team have worked meticulously to ensure the consistancy of their vision, and the occasional appearance of modern words in the emended text was not as irksome as I could have imagined.

First of all I am a sucker for the golden age of film; the opening montage of sweeping spotlights, old-style cameras and film machinery as well as a well-used projection of grainy-footage gets the production off to a beautifully charmed start. Clearly all of the creative team have worked meticulously to ensure the consistancy of their vision and I loved the poster projections (Corwin Ferguson) throughout whose titles commented as to the action on stage.

The cast is solid. There are a few stand outs and a few weaker links. Kevin MacDonald (Benedick) and Amber Lewis (Beatrice) steal the show as the James Dean and Sophia Loren-esque leads. MacDonald shines particularly in his comic scenes which he handles effortlessly. Lewis is flawless, oozing sensuality and sassiness, and her comic chops are also up to par – a stand out moment being the scene where she casually tells Don Pedro (Ian Butcher) that she couldn’t possibly date him, laughing coyly whilst trying to wax lyrical excuses before promptly running away. Their dance together at the masked ball is choreographed neatly (Tara Cheyenne Friendenberg) and rehearsed well. Andrew Wheeler as Leonato is perfectly cast, he is an actor who commands great attention and crescendos to devestating effect in the scene where he shames Hero (Parmiss Sehat). It was crushing to watch this patriarchal power brutalise a young woman for her (wrongfully accused) “misdeeds”, an issue as relevent today as it is in this setting.

Of the smaller roles I would be remiss to not heap praise on Ashley O’Connell in is hilarious Dogberry turn. As part of a duo of cops O’Connell has an ease and confidence in his performance which heralded many belly laugh moments. It is strangely juxtaposed with Verges (Chris Cochrane) whose character seemed to be attempting to go for possible visual comedy (outrageous mustache, IV bag and stand, silly walk) which unfortunately falls brutally flat in comparison. Cochrane fortunately has a better fit in his role as Friar Frances which was thoughtful and steady.

Alongside the choices made for Verges, I found Dona Johnna jarring. Laara Sadiq has been directed in such a way to be a characature villain, indeed punctuated sometimes with music and lighting; following her success in convincing Claudio (Julien Galipeau) and Don Pedro to catch ‘Hero’ with another man I was fully anticipating a garish mwah-ha-ha-ha. I just don’t think that choice worked in this production, which was a shame because actually Sadiq showed great control in her physicality and voice and I would love to have seen it put to better use.

There are so many moments in this production which are noteworthy and I have to make sure to praise the music in this production, no better exemplified by ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ beautifully performed by David M. Adams as Antonio, backed up by the male chorus and composed by Sound Designer Murray Price.

Bard’s Much Ado About Nothing would be a great introduction to someone new to Shakespeare, as the setting is so instantly recognisable and the company makes the plot natural and easy to follow. I wanted the comedy to run forever, however, I will conclude with what affected me most - the scene where Hero is ripped to shreds by the men around her with the women standing by unable to help. The difference in the way men and women are treated is exemplified no better than in Leonato’s killer blow “If they speak but truth of her, These hands shall tear her; if they wrong her honour, The proudest of them shall well hear of it.” I wonder how many women reading this have been on the receiving end of a similar treatment, I would venture most.

By Marie Duncan

What a spectacular way to spend an evening. Much Ado About Nothing at Bard on the Beach simple, crisp, and as delightful as a show can be. Amber Lewis and Kevin MacDonald, as Beatrice and Benedick, were the highlight of the play. I could have watched only the two of them for the full two hours. Andrew Wheeler took my breath away with the deepest performance of the piece, as Leonato.

Director John Murphy draws us into a glamorous world of 1950s movie stars and producers, with the help of some bold text adjustments. Many changes in the text were made to shift us to a film set, and some lines were even added to increase the sense of the world and to add cultural references. This felt fun and silly. It pulled me out of the world momentarily because I know the text of the play quite well, so it was surprising. However, the choice was made throughout the play and certainly added to the sense of cheekiness that Benedict and Beatrice engage in.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of Ashley O’Connell as Dogberry. He was an extraordinarily funny little man charging about the stage, desperate for respect. It was unfortunate that he shared his scenes with Chris Cochrane’s Verges, whose choices seemed to compete for “funniest person on stage” rather than support and add to the rhythm and comedy that was already well alive within the scene.

Don John, typically a male role, was played by Laara Sadiq as Donna Johnna, a dramatic, brooding screenwriter who held nothing but ill-will to everyone she knew. This is all that Shakespeare’s text gives us about the character’s villainous purpose, and Sadiq was unable to bring her further into a realm of believability. She held and intriguing presence both physically and vocally, as Donna Johnna lives in a distorted and tense reality that she created for herself. While engaging momentarily, these choices were exhausting to watch and left her sitting outside the world that everyone else was playing within.

Overall, Much Ado About Nothing is hilarious and painful in all the right places. A delightful love story on many accounts, and highly recommended by this reviewer.