Much like the budding romance between Hero and Claudio in the play itself, Wednesday night’s open-air premiere of William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing was threatened by the malevolent influence of outside elements, in this case a light drizzle that foreshadowed an impending downpour.
As the skies darkened, it seemed likely that this year’s Canopy Theatre premiere in Philosopher’s Walk would be postponed for a day. But the actors seemed impervious to the rain and the show went on, soaked bums and all.
Much Ado is widely considered to be one of Shakespeare’s best comedies; written in prose (as opposed to blank verse), the dialogue has a spontaneity outside the familiar Shakespearean metered rhythms. The story follows the courtship of young Hero and Claudio, as well as of the older and perpetually bickering Beatrice and Benedick. The play itself is a study of deception: Hero and Claudio are torn apart by the machinations of the odious Don John, while the latter couple is brought together by the well-meaning deceptions of their friends.
The production of Much Ado is deceptive as well. Because of its affiliation with Hart House Theatre, we were expecting a pack of greenhorn theatre students, but the playbill revealed the extensive acting credits of each of the cast. Most of the actors never missed a beat in spite of the rain, random gusts of wind, and the occasional wail of sirens going by, revealing themselves as seasoned professionals. (That said, those who sang during the final wedding scene should be discouraged from ever singing again. Ever.)
The direction was also impressive, Lada Darewych added additional spark with lots of physical humour (the elderly Antonio bestowing a vigorous and protracted ass-grabbing to Ursula comes to mind). In fact, the play went a little flat near the end only because production increasingly stuck to script and didn’t add as many clever physical details. Actors Andrea Wasserman and Byron Rouse shone in their roles as Beatrice and Benedick. Special praise goes to Wasserman, whose naturalness makes one suspect she shares much of Beatrice’s spunk in real life. Credit also goes to Jennifer Hallihan and Matthew Gorman as Hero and Claudio for infusing their comparatively bland roles with touches of subversive humour.
Much Ado is part of Canopy’s seventh season, and apparently their first opening night to weather a lengthy rain delay. Perhaps, just as rainy weddings are considered good luck for the marriage, a wet premiere harkens a successful run.
Much Ado About Nothing runs Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. until August 4. Wedesdays are pay-what-you-can, otherwise tickets are $10 ($8 for students and seniors). Advanced tickets available at UofTtix Box Office in Hart House. The production takes place in Philosopher’s Walk, just steps away from Museum station.
And remember to bring a sittin’ blanket!
Photo by Canopy Theatre Company.