Much Ado About Nothing: It’s about more than this

Classic Chic Productions is presenting Much Ado About Nothing at The Cultch

Benedick (Corina Akeson) kneels in front of his love Beatrice (Christina Wells Campbell)

A director needs to create a coherent world for a production. That’s their primary job. But Rebecca Patterson’s take on Much Ado About Nothing is all over the place.

Much Ado is an interesting choice for Classic Chic Productions, which mounts all-female shows. The most compelling interpretations of Much Adothat I’ve seen have emphasized the gender divisions in the play. Men are soldiers and women are chattel. Both positions are dangerous and both depend on the public perception of honour, which is a fragile commodity. Within this context, the banter between Beatrice and Benedick, the central lovers, can be seen as a form of self-defence.

And the stakes are high. Messina, where the action unfolds, is a maze of ridicule, deception, and malice, which is often presented as jovial—but not always. Don John, who is automatically dishonoured because he is a bastard, derails the planned wedding of Beatrice’s cousin Hero to Benedick’s pal Claudio out of sheer spite—by setting up a scene that makes Hero look like a slut. When Claudio confronts Hero at the altar, she nearly dies of shame.

But the all-female casting in this production blurs the gender division and that tension is largely lost. To be clear: I’m not saying that non-traditional gender casting can’t work for Much Ado (in fact I think it could be very interesting); I’m just saying that it’s not working here: although a couple of individual actors are convincingly male, there’s little sense of a consistently oppressive patriarchal culture.

And some of the acting is bad, which undermines the central relationships. Corina Akeson makes a sexy, swaggering Benedick and her delivery is refreshing: it’s as if she’s discovering the meaning of Benedick’s words as she speaks them. There’s genuine passion here, too, as when Benedick spits at Claudio, “You are a villain.”

But Christina Wells Campbell doesn’t trust Beatrice’s wit. Instead of simply delivering the character’s lines—and allowing herself to sink into the emotion that informs them—Campbell overacts, gesticulating and rushing her delivery. Campbell is so busy that there’s no room for credible love to emerge between Beatrice and Benedick.

Before intermission, Sereana Malani is also weak as Hero. She indicates the character’s vulnerability but it just comes off as shallow and simpering.

Fortunately, Adele Noronha makes solid sense of Claudio, much as Kayla Deorksen does as the well-meaning prince, Don Pedro.

Still, Patterson’s direction is often coarse. The text supports the idea that Don Pedro may be lonely—and in love with Beatrice. Subtly played, this can be satisfying, but Patterson has Don Pedro kneel and virtually propose to Beatrice. And when Patterson introduces Don John, the villain, she has him play air guitar to a song that includes the lyrics “I am the anti-Christ.”

You could argue that Patterson is just being playful but her slapdash approach often cuts off access to the script’s depth. To me, even the production elements feel incoherent. CJ McGillvray’s sound design incorporates all sorts of things—including South Asian music and English-language pop songs—without carving out a specific or impactful sensibility. Similarly, costumer Sherry Randall seems to have grabbed whatever was in the closet. There are rich fabrics, which may be South Asian, Elizabethan shirts, and East Coast sou’westers.

All of that said, Classic Chic’s Much Adogets better after Claudio shames Hero. As the dramatic stakes become higher and clearer, the performances become much more confident. Beatrice’s sympathetic tears are affecting and Hero acquires emotional weight.

But, in the writing, those dramatic stakes have been there from the beginning—disguised as comedy. If only the artists in this production had let us see that.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING By William Shakespeare. Adapted and directed by Rebecca Patterson. A Classic Chic production at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Thursday, February 7. Continues until February 16.Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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