november 2018 | Volume 173
You know you’re in for an enjoyable evening of theatre when even the pre-show housekeeping announcements are funny. UBC alumna Lois Anderson (BA, BFA, MFA), one of Vancouver’s most imaginative directors, has created a consistently bold and bright Much Ado About Nothing with a talented group of UBC acting and design students.
Anderson sets the play in contemporary Italy, making the guys soccer players but changing the dialogue only minimally. She has also cast many of the male roles with women. Bard on the Beach did the same in its 2017 Much Ado. As a strategy it helps reset the gender balance in Shakespeare and mostly works well for companies like Bard, with its strong corps of actresses, and UBC Theatre with its abundance of BFA women.
Anderson also deals successfully with what I know has been a sticking point for her: the scene in which Hero is slandered at the altar as an adulteress by villains Don John and Borachio, and violently rejected and pilloried by husband-to-be Claudio, her father Leonato and Duke Don Pedro. With Leonato cross-cast as Hero’s mother Leonata, Anderson stages the scene in a way that minimizes the physical and verbal violence, skating over the ugliness.
This feels more appropriate to the overall comic tone of the play and its happy resolution than other stagings I’ve seen, even though most of the men still emerge unscathed by their loathsome conduct.
The greatest strength of Much Ado is the witty duo of Beatrice and Benedick. Both Daelyn Lester-Serafini and Gray Clark do excellent work as the reluctant lovers. Lester-Serafini’s Beatrice is a strong, confident, sometimes fierce young woman whose reaction to Claudio’s betrayal of Hero is to growl, “Oh god, if I were a man I’d eat his heart in the marketplace.”
Clark’s Benedick never goes goo-goo with love as Benedicks often do. And his hilarious overhearing of people talking about him and Beatrice as he hides behind an armless statue of Venus is a small comic masterpiece.
Matthew Rhodes’ Claudio is a sweet boy, even if he falls too easily for the villainous plot. Tebo Nzeku stands out as self-assured Leonata, and with her bobbed black wig could easily double for Michelle Obama. Cassandra Bourchier makes the most of the maid Margaret and does great work in the pre-show alongside Elizabeth Young.
Young also performs the best physical comedy in the show as malapropist constable Dogberry with funny Hannah Everett is his/her inept partner Verges. These low comic roles aren’t easy to pull off but they play delightfully here.
The show’s design is consistently strong as well: especially Jacqueline Gilchrist’s revolving Venetian set with its bold lines and colours plus a clever gondola that gets well-earned applause; Erica Sterry’s striking array of costumes; and Mai Inagaki’s rollicking Italian soundscape.
Though not Bard on the Beach-quality, this is a highly competent, accessible and thoroughly entertaining evening of Shakespeare.
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