Toronto’s Hart House Theatre sets Shakespeare’s Much Ado in the shadows of WWII
Perhaps this has to do with being a U of T grad, but for me Hart House shows have always been synonymous with “probably pretty good”. But even with a solid opinion of Hart House Theatre going into it, this production of Much Ado About Nothing has managed to raise that bar for me.
It wasn’t until the subway ride home that I realized I’ve reviewed works of director Carly Chamberlain before, in the 2016 Summerworks production of Plucked. I’m glad I didn’t know this going into Much Ado, because it gave me the opportunity to be blown away yet again by her directorial skills and ingenious knack for bringing texts to life in clever, thought-provoking ways.
This production of Much Ado About Nothing is set in the mid-40’s, and in the shadow cast by the Second World War. Its themes edge into some dark places, looking at the roles of women in the post-war climate, and the returning men’s attempts to wrest from them the few new freedoms they’ve gained in their absence. The music, costumes, and mannerisms of the actors reflect this well so that even without the help of the programme, you can situate the play in history.
In the past, I’ve found that productions of Shakespeare’s comedies seeking to explore more serious themes often do it at the expense of the show’s humour. But that is not the case here. This production of Much Ado, while being incredibly thought-provoking and quite disheartening in the way we see the men reinstate their positions of power, surprisingly manages to be quite funny. And thus to me it invoked the feelings of watching a dark comedy.
Across the board, I was impressed by the cast and could probably go through each member and tell you what I liked about them. Unfortunately I have a limit to my word count, but I will say that this was a tightly woven ensemble, and each actor felt distinguished and significant to the production.
Shalyn McFaul as Beatrice, and Christopher Darroch as Benedick were both delightful. Each was funny in different ways and they came together with great chemistry; just an absolute joy to watch onstage. I was also fond of Alan Shonfield’s nebbish Claudio and Mike Vitorovich’s similarly indecisive Leonardo. Both gave great portrayals of men who relied on privilege more so than strength of character to assert themselves.
Meanwhile, I was really impressed by Laura Meadows’ stern, intimidating Don John. An excellent casting choice, and a change for the character that added a lot to the development of the plot. Finally, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention how hilarious Lesley Robertson was as Dogberry, absolutely stealing the show in her scenes. Her movement onstage and the inflections were spot-on.
The only thing that bugged me throughout the production was the functionality of the set. Three large, movable panels took up the stage and though they were pretty to look at, moving them around to set different scenes seemed to have very little effect. Thus the set transitions felt unnecessary (albeit they were quick) and beside from the day/night cycle achieved through lighting, the stage never seemed to change much between scenes.
Between Much Ado and Tideline, Hart House Theatre is having a great season so far. I’m excited to see their upcoming shows. I have now been seriously impressed by Carly Chamberlain twice and am curious to see what she’ll be working on next.
- Much Ado About Nothing is playing at the Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle).
- Performances run until November 13, 2016.
- Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8:00PM, with a 2:00PM matinee on Sat, Nov 19.
- Run time is approximately 2h 30 min.
- Tickets can be purchased at the door or online, and are $25 with additional prices for students and seniors.
Production Photography by Daniel DiMarco and Scott Gorman.