Much Ado about the Battle of the Sexes
The real-life husband and wife team of Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson are well cast as Beatrice and Benedick in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season opener Much Ado About Nothing. This pair brings so much fun to their roles in Shakespeare’s popular comedy.
Leonato (James Blendick) welcomes Don Pedro (Juan Chioran) back from winning a war. With Don Pedro are two of his soldiers, Benedick and Claudio. Claudio (Tyrone Savage) immediately falls for the lovely Hero (Bethany Jillard), daughter of Leonato. Leonato’s brother Antonio (Keith Dinicol) and his daughter Beatrice are also on hand for the triumphant soldiers’ return. Everyone is pleased with the pairing of Claudio and Hero, but it soon becomes evident that Benedick and Beatrice have an on-going feud: they are always bickering and competing in a war of words. Their friends conspire to bring them together.
Claudio and Hero are happily making wedding plans, but Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother Don John (Gareth Potter) is obviously jealous of their happiness. A truly evil bastard, he spreads nasty, false rumours about Hero’s chastity, breaking up the engagement. Benedick and Beatrice are fooled into thinking that each is in love with the other and they work together to clear Hero’s name. Despite their protests, they eventually fall in love. Like a typical Shakespearean comedy, the problems are sorted out, and all’s well that ends well.
Ben Carlson is a master of Shakespearean language, making it all seem so easy. He also has perfect comedic timing, with just the right facial expressions. Carlson makes Benedick very arrogant, but somehow, Benedict himself doesn’t realize he is annoyingly conceited. His reaction to Beatrice’s request for him to kill his friend Claudio is hilarious.
Deborah Hay, too, has a talent for garnering laughter, using her big, beautiful eyes Lucille Ball style. Hay has a penchant for physical comedy. She provides the biggest laugh of the show, but I won’t reveal it here, not wanting to spoil it. The two are perfect in their roles and knowing that they are a couple off-stage only adds to the fun.
Other laughs in the show come from Shakespeare’s clever writing for the character Dogberry, played by Richard Binsley. The malapropisms flow from his mouth. Gareth Potter exudes evil as Don John, while Juan Chioran as Don Pedro is a pleasant matchmaker. James Blendick as Leonato is his usual charming self, while Keith Dinicol provides laughs as Antonio. It’s good to see Tyrone Savage on stage as Claudio, having the opportunity to show various emotions. Savage will be remembered as Fat Baily, the adorable little brother in the TV show “Wind at my Back”.
The stage is beautiful with an attractive tile floor and elegant staircase. Set in Brazil in the 1800s, the palm trees give an airy feeling to the estate.
A talented cast makes this Shakespearean comedy well worth it. It certainly compares favourably with successful 2006 version which starred Stratford veterans Lucy Peacock and the late Peter Donaldson. The team of Hay and Carlson were well-received by the opening night audience, and deservedly so.
Much Ado About Nothing continues at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in repertoire until October 27. Call 1-800-567-1600 or go to www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com for tickets.
Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Newton
Performed by Ben Carlson, Deborah Hay et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
April 26 to October 27, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson