Review: Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare does romcom

Summer in Vancouver is usually defined by two things: less clothing and Shakespeare.  As we continue to shed our winter layers, Bard on the Beach begins serving up Shakespeare under the tents in Vanier Park.  And what better summer time treat than Shakespeare’s version of a romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.

Led by the delightful performance of Jennifer Lines as Beatrice and her seemingly unwilling partner Benedick (a hilarious John Murphy) we have all the trappings of a classic romcom.  At times both very funny and very serious, but always full of romantic ideals, Much Ado About Nothing is surely destined to become this year’s stage version of a JLo movie (or perhaps in this year of Sandra Bullock it should be compared more closely to her work in this field).

Much Ado About Nothing
The cast of the Bard on the Beach production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Lines is especially believable as the female protagonist Beatrice who deftly steers away from that fine line of being a “bitch”, making us truly believe that, despite her protestations, she too is capable of finding love.  Paired with Murphy’s very funny Benedick, who has professed bachelorhood to the end, the two actually manage to make this unlikely couple quite plausible.

Both Lines and Murphy have great comedic timing but they are also given the opportunity to show off their physical comedy prowess as well.  In side-by-side scenes they both secretly listen in on their compatriots as they discuss how they are really loved by the other.  While Murphy seems particularly adept at the physical comedy provided by Director Dean Paul Gibson, Lines is not far behind as she too must “duck and cover” for fear of being discovered eavesdropping.

But Much Ado About Nothing is not all about Lines and Murphy, for in this Shakespeare each character gets their time in the summer sun.  Simon Bradbury as the witless Dogberry who makes the most of every malapropism, Parnelli Parnes as the villain Don John with what appears to be a slight bent and Allan Morgan as the loyal and unpredictably feisty Antonio, all provide wonderful support.

Shawn Macdonald’s Verges fits nicely with Bradbury’s Dogberry and I do confess having to double-check the programme to see who was under all that old man hair and make-up.  Gaelan Beatty and Almeera Jiwa work well together as the other, more innocent, lovers in this tale and while Gerry Mackay’s Leonato is likeable enough, when he begins to rail against the falsely-accused Hero, I found his rage a little much to the point it was difficult to make out what he was saying.

Director Gibson manages to tease us with the relationship between Don John and Conrade.  While a definite surprise, I was ultimately disappointed the relationship could not be explored further.

From the drab olive green of the noble uniforms to the bold sashes worn by the nobility to Dogberry’s motley crew, Mara Gottler’s costumes are wonderful.  Drew Facey’s simple set works well and is typical for the mainstage Bard on the Beach setting complete with the wide opening upstage taking advantage of the trademark city and mountain view behind as actors enter and exit.

Perhaps a little darker at times than the Hollywood romantic comedies we are used to, Director Dean Paul Gibson still manages to keep this Much Ado About Nothing light and fun – just what we need for summer.

That and less clothing, of course.

4 out of 5 StarsBard on the Beach
Vanier Park
10 June – 25 September

The anchor production in the mainstage tent will be the witty romance Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra. In the intimate Studio Stage, Bard will continue with the second year of “The Kings” History Cycle. In a new adaptation by Errol Durbach, Henry IV, Parts I & II will be blended as Falstaff and will play in repertory with the third history play, the powerful Henry V. Visit http://www.bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.

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