Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by John Murphy. A Bard on the Beach production. At the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Mainstage on June 15. Continues to September 23
The rapid-fire insults and cutting, contemptuous barbs between Much Ado About Nothing’s Beatrice and Benedick account for some of William Shakespeare’s wittiest and most delightful dialogue. When text sparks like that on the page, the transition to stage must ignite fireworks or else the whole endeavour flops. Thankfully, Bard on the Beach delivers a near flawless production that’s charming, hilarious, and daringly creative.
Here, Much Ado’s updated setting is a 1950s-era Italian film studio (with wonderful work by costume designer Christine Reimer and scenery designer Pam Johnson) where fiercely opinionated Beatrice (Amber Lewis) and arrogant Benedick (Kevin MacDonald) are movie stars cast opposite each other in director Don Pedro’s (Ian Butcher) new film. Benedick tries to dissuade his friend, Claudio (Julien Galipeau), from marrying Beatrice’s cousin, Hero (Parmiss Sehat). But Beatrice and Benedick's friends and family turn the tables on them when they trick the warring duo into falling in love.
When the villainous Dona Johnna (Laara Sadiq) tricks Claudio into believing Hero is unchaste, he publicly humiliates her at the altar and she collapses in despair. The others tell Claudio that Hero is dead while they try to disprove the slanderous accusations. Eventually the truth is revealed and there are two weddings by play’s end.
John Murphy’s direction is masterful. In lesser hands, the Italian-cinema setting could have felt like a gimmick, but the details are so precise and perfect that it’s impossible to resist. Murphy imbues the production with a real sense of joy while also making seriously impressive staging decisions that aren’t just entertaining or creative, but also deepen our connection to the text. A particularly spiteful exchange between Beatrice and Benedick unfolds as they share a choreographed dance that manages to be both sexy and funny.
Good direction, of course, only takes us so far. The excellent cast does the rest of the heavy lifting, and all the actors look like they’re having the best time. MacDonald is particularly winning, an agile and intelligent comic actor with charisma and charm to spare. He’s also wise enough to know that this stage truly belongs to Lewis, who is brilliant. Her Beatrice is like a lion hunting prey, and her weaponized disdain is spectacular. She delivers every insult and diatribe with a perfect combination of humour, frustration, and snark, a wholly relatable trifecta for a woman who’s been actively opposing the patriarchy since the 16th century.
This is Shakespeare at its sharpest and most satisfying. Bravo.