Much Ado About Nothing at Hart House Theatre
Liam McConnell - ARTS EDITOR
One idiosyncrasy of William Shakespeare's work is the utter lack of detail concerning anything but the language itself. He never told us what his sets or costumes were meant to look like, how lines should be delivered, or what actors should be doing when they're on stage but not involved in the action. There were no directors in his time, so actors directed themselves.
Some productions may flounder under the extra responsibility of filling in these “gaps.” (All scenes in the 1980 filmed adaptation of Hamlet starring Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart unfolded in dark, nondescript rooms.) Some productions, on the other hand, use that creative freedom to their distinct advantage. Director Carly Chamberlain's Much Ado About Nothing falls squarely into that happy second category.
The temporal setting, for example, is the 1940s, a fact immediately apparent thanks to Adriana Bogaard's pitch-perfect costume design. Chamberlain explains the decision: “The 1940s has proven a fruitful contextual springboard to jump off from. WWII saw women take on new roles in the workforce and gain more agency, but when the war came to an end, a kind of social conflict was created. ... This moment of change serves as the subtle background for our story: where young people grapple with their ideas of love and marriage versus the realities, for better and for worse.” Such is the freedom that Shakespeare's vagueness allows to the most creative directors. Sentiments of his work have rung true throughout history, and Chamberlain takes advantage.
The set is minimal, but transformative and symmetrical: two qualities that mirror the characters themselves. Translucent wings hang from the ceiling, behind which the play's many spying characters hide: invisible to their contemporaries but never to the audience. When characters begin to faction off, Chamberlain places them in mirroring positions during their confrontations. The visual storytelling employed by blocking assists in translating Shakespeare's English to the uninitiated.
On the subject of visual storytelling, particularly strong performances are exhibited by Christopher Darroch (Benedick) and Dylan Evans (Borachio). Both of these actors have an understanding of movement that lent hilarity to their portrayals and emphasis to their words.
The production's breakaway star—and this will be confirmed by any of my fellow audience members—was Lesley Robertson. Her performance as Dogberry was like the character: subtle yet exaggerated; confident yet bumbling; hilarious yet utterly serious. The crowd erupted into laughter at her every appearance on stage. At one point, her wild motions caused her hat to fly to the floor. She incorporated the mistake into her performance and proudly pulled it back onto her head, much to the delight of the audience. The improvised moment of face-saving spoke to the character perfectly by combining the silly with the severe.
All in all, the play is a fun yet heart-wrenching night out at the theatre. The raucous laughter throughout proved that, as Benedick would put it, man is a giddy thing.