Review: Much ado about something really good

REVIEW

What: Much (Less) Ado About Nothing

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Where: Craigdarroch Castle

When: To April 8

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

 

In romantic comedies — whether it’s a Bridget Jones’s Diary, About a Boy or Sleepless in Seattle — the lovers typically bicker before getting together. Variations of this evergreen narrative surface over and over in popular culture.

And by golly, we love it.

Indeed, we’ve been loving it for a long time. Take Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, penned more than four centuries ago. The romantic comedy centres on a couple, Beatrice and Benedick, who profess to detest one another before ulimately declaring their unending devotion.

Victoria’s Launch Pad Theatre Company has hatched a pocket-sized adaptation, Much (Less) Ado About Nothing, that works awfully well. The snappy script is trimmed judiciously from two hours to one. The performances are fresh and vivacious. Perhaps less is indeed more — this is a fun, smart, even exhilarating night at the theatre.

The enterprise is cleverly packaged as a evening of Bertie Wooster-era entertainment. It takes place in Victoria’s favouritely stately mansion, Craigdarroch Castle. The notion that the audience are guests invited to an night of upper-class entertainment.

The first 30 minutes is a reception on the castle’s opulent first floor. Theatregoers sip a glass of champagne (if you purchase the higher-priced ticket) and mingle with the cast, who obligingly chat and sing vintage songs, accompanying themselves on piano and ukelele.

We’re then invited to ascend several flights of stairs to the brightly-lit upstairs ballroom, where the performance happens. The performers sport crisp Edwardian-era costumes. Launch Pad’s David Radford and Christina Patterson, who direct the show, star as Beatrice and Benedick.

There are only seven actors in this uniformly solid cast, which means some doubling of roles. To allow this there’s a few gender switches — for instance, Borachio becomes Borachia. Perhaps the most radical change is transforming Dogberry the comic constable to Dogberry the maid, with his watchmen becoming her mop and broom (she has them “speak” like puppets). As with the original, it’s still a broad clown routine — it works just fine.

Today’s audiences have a problem with Claudio’s rejection of Hero at their wedding, which to modern eyes and ears seems inordinately cruel and chauvinistic. (The notion is that she was unfaithful, although she was not). Launch Pad addresses Hero’s curiously passive acceptance of this, which would have been accepted by Elizabethan audiences, by having her respond in kind, even slapping Claudio’s face.

There’s no set. Perhaps to compensate, actors are instructed perform with energy and chutzpah. Thursday’s performance was dispatched with admirable verve; lines were delivered with clarity and particular emphasis on physical gesture, all of which helps the audience to comprehend the dated language.

Mimed sword-fights and cocktail-guzzling came amusingly to life thanks to a foley artist tucked away to one side. Other highlights: a masquerade scene (with red-beaked masks) performed to a scratchy tango recording and the crowd-pleasing ensemble dance (complete with Charleston moves) that ends the play.

Radford, in particular, is a dynamo — his energy and charisma power the production like a hot-rodded engine. Particularly notable was Benedick’s speech in which he waxes rhapsodic after learning Beatrice adores him (in fact, his friends have hoodwinked him).

Singling out one actor seems almost artificial as this is such a strong ensemble effort. As well as Patterson, who makes her Beatrice suitably sparky, the cast includes Monica Ogden, Christine Upright, Cam Culham, Jared Gowen and Graham Croft.

Some purists will bemoan a pared-down Shakespeare. That’s their loss. Most will enjoy this engaging and rather unusual night at the theatre … or rather, the castle.

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