Bard on the Beach’s ultra-snappy version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
Sit inside a snazzy pavilion and be theatrically swept into the world of Shakespeare through a sleek 1950s adaptation.
The annual Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival is currently taking place this summer in Vanier Park with five of the playwright’s works, including the masterful comedy Much Ado About Nothing, directed by John Murphy. For anyone who enjoys live theatre in unique venues, the glitzy glamour of retro cinema, and conniving characters caught up in hilarious schemes, Much Ado About Nothing is a must-see.
Transposed out of its original courtly setting, the Bard on the Beach adaptation of Much Ado takes place in Messina, Italy, in 1959. The story revolves around a pair of young actors, Claudio and Hero, who are besotted with one another; another pair, Beatrice and Benedick, who are perfectly matched in their disdain for love and for each other; and an accompanying cast of actors, directors, assistants, and others in the film industry. Several of the characters conspire to bring Beatrice and Benedick together, while others plot to drive Claudio and Hero apart. Comedy ensues as schemes entangle and love is challenged.
Perhaps the most brilliant thing about Shakespeare’s plays is their timelessness, with stories that can be adapted to any time or place. In this case, the plot of Much Ado comes to life full of entertainment industry pizzazz. Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter fits surprisingly well into this environment, particularly with the quick-flowing wit of Beatrice and Benedick. The well-designed set, seamless scene transitions, lively music, costumes, and colour schemes all come together to create an authentic sense of periodicity. The costumes are especially effective in capturing the spirit of the age. Snappy suits and elegant cocktail dresses stylishly demonstrate a colour scheme underlaid by greys, with more vibrant hues accenting the romantic parts of the play. Sunglasses and cigarettes play a visible part in bringing to life the entire vintage look.
Director Murphy refers to Much Ado, in the program guide, as “Shakespeare’s greatest comedy,” and this adaptation handles the hilarity skillfully in juggling its several concurrent romantic schemes. Beatrice and Benedick’s verbal sparring is particularly amusing, especially after both become convinced that the other is secretly in love with them. However, the most riotously funny moment was probably the song and dance routine performed by a few of the characters around the middle of the play, which had much of the audience erupting in laughter.
For any first-time visitors to Bard on the Beach who may have reservations about a tent theatre, attending a show should convince you that it’s an unmissable Vancouver summer experience. The festival boasts two large stages within comfortable pavilions, as well as several concession stands with snacks, drinks, and a gift shop, in addition to the fabulous view of Vanier Park. The most notable aspect of the festival site is arguably the stage’s use of the location. Part of the BMO Mainstage is open to the outside, allowing for the view of the park and the water to be used as a backdrop and as natural lighting, with varying levels of exposure to the outside world in different scenes. This integration of the environ works especially well for evening shows: As the day progresses, the setting sun and darkening sky add openness and authenticity to the performance.
Much Ado About Nothing runs until September 23. However, if romance, comedy, and ’50s glam aren’t your thing, a Bard-goer can also catch a showing of The Winter’s Tale (until September 22), The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, or Shylock, all running until mid to late September.