Ben Carlson (Benedick) and Deborah Hay (Beatrice)
head the cast in Much Ado About Nothing. (Andrew Eccles photo)
Much Ado About Nothing
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Newton
Runs until October 27 at the Festival Theatre
Review by Geoff Dale
There are more than enough valid reasons to catch Much Ado About Nothing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 60th anniversary but one in particular needs to be highlighted from the onset – the brilliant performance of Deborah Hay as the strong-willed, forceful Beatrice.
Not only does Hay bring to the role the perfunctory elements of independent mindedness and sharp wit demanded by the character, she also demonstrates in the process what a remarkable and delightfully funny physical actor she can be when given the right opportunities.
Avoiding that dreaded spoiler alert, let’s just say there are several plum scenes that had the opening night audience rocking about with laughter at her antics.
Thanks to some clever casting, she is paired nicely alongside the expressive Ben Carslon as Benedick, known for his clever nature, albeit with a propensity for being a tad mean and controlling– in short something of a lovable rogue who like, Beatrice, ultimately undergoes a radical transformation of thought in the area of love.
For the most part director Christopher Newton does an admirable job, moving the nearly three hour production along at a respectable pace. While some purists may quibble about setting the play in 20th century Brazil, the locale hardly detracts from the overall impact on the plotline.
One, however, could express the desire for less of the arguably uninspired choral dance moves and the efforts of dueling pianists, melodically amusing at times but seemingly plopped into the work simply as fillers and certainly not that relevant to the action.
However, one can hardly dispute the company captures the genius of Shakespeare by presenting as the title suggests – a lot of noise about nothing. A romantic comedy that balances both humour and tragedy, Much Ado About Nothing is a superbly entertaining example of the bard’s fascination with wordplay. Many of the cast members are up to the challenge of showcasing the witty dialogue front and centre.
For those unfamiliar with the basic plot, Claudio (Tyrone Savage) and Hero (Bethany Jilliard) plan to get married but Don John (Gareth Potter), the villainous illegitimate brother of Don Pedro (Juan Chioran) slanders Hero with false evidence. With the perfunctory accusatory outbursts from both sides, the wedding is called off and Hero faints.
Her family – led by Leonato (James Blendick) – suspect slander and decides to pretend Hero died from shock. Don John’s plan is revealed while Claudio still mourns Hero’s death. Eventually, Hero is revealed to be alive and the marriage goes ahead as planned.
One of the company’s most recognizable actors, Blendick offers another one of his crowd-pleasing performance as the well-respected elderly noble Leonato; Jilliard captures the essential kindness of the gentle Hero and Potter, while rarely seen as Don John, does display some of the melancholy and malice of what it is basically a minor character that Shakespeare uses as a symbol of discord.
Whatever minor tweaking might be called for, at the end of the day Hay offers up a stellar performance that is much ado about something and more than worth the price of admission. A great opening for the 60th season. ***1/2 out of four stars.
Approximate running time: 2 hours, 41 minutes
Contact Stratford Shakespeare Festival: 1-800-567-1600
This review is also posted online at: The Beat