Canadian Stage re-imagines Shakespearean comedy with quirky staging at Toronto’s High Park
Normally, Shakespeare doesn’t compel you to do the macarena, but Canadian Stage‘s production of Much Ado About Nothing, one of its two Shakespeare in High Park summer performances, takes us on a colourful ride that injects some fun and originality into the tale of a “merry war”.
The production takes late-90’s-era cottage country as its setting, reflecting an era that feels contemporary but distant. Without the frenetic pace of today’s technology and social media, information spreads more slowly, making the perfect backdrop for the scandals and plotting that drive this comedy.
Benedick (Jamie Robinson) returns home from war, only to find himself once again at odds with his rival Beatrice (played by Rose Napoli), niece of local cottage proprietors and herself a loud-and-proud feminist comedian. The play is interspersed with added stand-up bits and jokes from her that shed light on her thoughts and feelings, and emphasize the play’s underlying conflict between romantic relationships and personal agency. Surprisingly, the switches between the modern day jokes and the traditional script are fluid, thanks to the cast having such a comfortable and natural grip on the material.
Napoli has an incredible force of personality in her role. She is plainly unafraid to make noise and take up space. It takes almost the whole cast combined to be the straight man to her antics, which better allows her to ham it up unapologetically, but her passion keeps her performance feeling authentic. Her energy and characterization make her an unstoppable force that reminds me why we come to the theatre. After one scene in which she spars with Benedick, I could hear a group of pre-teen girls in front of me whispering to each other, “I really like her!”, “Yeah, she’s so confident.”
I’d also be remiss for not mentioning the scene-stealing ‘Constable’ (in this version a Park Ranger) Dogberry (played by Nora McLellan), whom at first sight could be related to Matilda‘s Mrs. Trunchbull, but is significantly more bumbling and oblivious. Dim-witted with a bright personality, she plays with the audience delightfully and keeps us all laughing. Many of the characters in this production flavour their dialogue with their own ad-libbed asides and jokes, which helps keep the text grounded, and hers stood out to me as the funniest.
Shakespeare in High Park stands out as the most accessible production in Canadian Stage’s year-to-year programming, and it’s evident from this production that they pull out the stops for their summer audiences. This is a show that anyone can enjoy, no matter their age or familiarity with Shakespeare.
- Much Ado About Nothing plays as part of Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park until September 1 2019 at the High Park Ampitheatre (1873 Bloor St W)
- Performances run Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays at 8:00 pm.
- Tickets are PWYC (suggested $20) at the gate or you can reserve a spot online for $30 (for adults). Admission for children 14 and under is free.
Photo of Cast L-R: Emma Ferreira, Rose Napoli, Helen Taylor, Jamie Robinson, and Allan Louis. Photo by Dahlia Katz.