Much Ado About Nothing‘s standing as the most frequently performed Shakespeare comedy of all time veritably extends to Montreal this season as stage adaptations from the likes of Dawson’s Professional Theatre Program, the National Theatre School, and Repercussion Theatre sprout all over the map. Here, however, it’s Snowglobe Theatre‘s turn to take a hearty stab at the Bard’s beloved battle-of-the-sexes play – the newly minted company’s highly anticipated inaugural production.
The classic story that herein unfolds is one of lovers and tricksters in the idyllic Italian port town of Messina: young soldier Claudio (David Hudon), enamoured of the fair Hero (Skyler Clarke), enlists his friend Prince Don Pedro (James Finlay Fraser) – who has just triumphantly returned from war – to help him woo the aforementioned daughter of nobleman and city governor Leonato (Scott Kettles).
Pedro’s illegitimate brother Don John (Michael Vidde), however, in his vengeful jealousy and bitterness, is fully determined to disrupt the harmony and happiness of the courting couple. Villainous figure of the piece, he hatches an elaborate plan to make the break happen, and chaotic hilarity and drama ensues.
Meanwhile, fun-loving bachelor Benedick (Edward Cohen) too returns from a victory at said war only to find himself now caught up in another battle: a war of wits and words with spinster Beatrice (Sandra D’Angelo), the headstrong, acid-tongued daughter of Leonato’s brother Antonio (Simon Côté). A pairing with a history, they banter, bicker, and talk themselves into confirmed singlehood, but in their depths is an unspoken desperation for requited affection.
Comical and nonsensical business of gossiping and eavesdropping come about, but as in the lighthearted spirit of the farce, eventually wrongdoers are punished and companions are united.
Hudon and Clarke as the suspicious Claudio and the wronged Hero, respectively, are enjoyable as the young budding couple whose threatened romance provide the main impetus for the narrative. The famed altar scene where the wedding goes awry is one of the more memorable moments of the evening, and Clarke’s mischievous air gives the character a much appreciated panache to counterbalance what could have been sickening sweetness.
The second duo consisting of the histrionic Benedick and the spitfire Beatrice, however – whose parallel snarly subplot is traditionally acknowledged as the more intriguing of the storylines – doesn’t quite hit the mark for us. There’s a modest mismatch – but not as Shakespeare had intended for the unlikely, antagonistic couple: we longed for greater vulnerability, rivalling sharpness, and unprocessed chemistry which could have perhaps rendered the “merry war” a tad more combustible for fire. (Troublesome at times also was some unintelligible speech of the poetic and sophisticated dialogue – nothing to extensively quibble about, though.)
On that note, it is the veteran male ensemble of this relishable reproduction of Much Ado that lift the the author’s words and thus set the stage ablaze. Amongst them, James Finlay Fraser and Michael Vidde are standouts in their humorous devious scheming as the commanding brothers Pedro and John. Keir Cutler is equally delightful as Dogberry, the clueless constable who impedes his own investigations as he pontificates in the fashions of a highway trooper. Also occasionally getting in their comic licks (without, fortunately, verging on camp) are Scott Kettles, Simon Côté, Lars Lih and Rodrigo Monardes Marin as Leonato, Antonio, George Seacole, and Friar Francis.
(Rounding out what is a satisfying full cast are Samantha Bitonti, Adrian MacDonald, France Maurice, Nils Svensson-Carell, and Sarah Trottier as Margaret, Conrad, Ursula, Borachio, and Verges, respectively.)
Striking a most pleasant chord with the audience, we should mention, is Montreal-based group The Bombadils (comprised of Sarah Frank and Luke Fraser), who perform live, original music of two voices, fiddle, and guitar string on stage. Their resplendent folk celtic bluegrass sound befittingly lends a vivacious, colourful tone to Much Ado, raising our spirits before words are even spoken and keeping them high well after the lights of the MainLine are dimmed (it helps, certainly, that Shakespeare extraordinarily spares us of multiple deaths in this story of prose and verse).
The sparse set is pardoned by the sprightly interludes of melodies and energy-charged performances that swell to fill the space, not to mention that Productions Caracole has also here provided a feast for the eyes with opulent period costumes, masks, and props.
Though interspersed with darker concerns of betrayal, deception, hatred, grief, and despair (and thus verging on tragedy at times), the high-society court games of manipulation that are central to Much Ado About Nothing renders it a crowd-pleasing rom-com – even if slightly dated for its patriarchal bias and lack of a female exemplar of moral virtue. It’s a safe but perhaps shrewd selection on behalf of Snowglobe who, as mentioned, here presents its inaugural artistic production – and a rather faithful representation it is at that. Arguably, tradition can be refreshing: we crave an unadulterated classic sometimes, one deprived of forced gimmicks or indulgent reworkings. Here, all’s well that ends well in a merry night at the theatre.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
Snowglobe Theatre’s “Much Ado About Nothing” ends its run on Sunday, January 29th at the MainLine Theatre (3997 Boul. Saint-Laurent). Tickets are $15-25 and can be purchased online at www.mainlinetheatre.ca or by calling the box office at (514) 849-3378. 160 minutes.