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'Much Ado About Nothing' by William Shakespeare with additional text by Erin Shields

Now onstage at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario

Now onstage at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario

Joe Szekeres

Misunderstanding the word ‘nothing’ in the title becomes something, especially in the delicate intricacies of male and female relationships. Director Chris Abraham’s terrific cast makes this ‘Much Ado’ really something for twenty-first-century audiences.

I must confess that I have mispronounced ‘nothing’ since my undergraduate days at Western.

I took a Shakespearean course during my second undergraduate year; however, in 1980, I cannot recall the course’s instructor ever saying that ‘nothing’ (pronounced ‘no thing’) referred to, what Oprah Winfrey calls, the ‘va j j.’ Yes, the Elizabethans jokingly refer to the vagina as no thing.

Ergo, the play’s title is ironic because it’s “Much Ado About a va j j,” which explains why the play is probably and rarely studied in Ontario secondary schools.

That doesn’t mean this ‘Much Ado’ isn’t worth paying a visit because it is most definitely.

Don Pedro (André Sills) and his companions return home from a military campaign in celebration when they accept an invitation to stay a month at Leonato’s (Patrick McManus) estate. Among Pedro’s companions are his half-brother Don John (Michael Blake) and soldiers Benedick (Graham Abbey), a self-confirmed bachelor and Claudio (Austin Eckert). Benedick continues his spar of words and wit with Leonato’s niece, Beatrice (Maev Beaty), and Claudio falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Allison Edwards-Crewe), who returns his affections. Claudio joins Don Pedro and Leonato’s secret campaign to bring the sparring Benedick and Beatrice together in love and matrimony.

Different plots and counterplots follow as misunderstandings in overheard conversation give way to singular hilarity and comic events, sometimes of slapstick and farcical nature. Where the play is terrific both to watch and hear are the double entendres and dual meanings.

The Festival Theatre auditorium has been transformed into a romantic setting by designers Julie Fox and Arun Srinivasan. The ambiance is genuinely captivating, from the lush decor to the warm, focused lighting. The final dance by Adrienne Gould, a hallmark of Shakespearean comedies, elicits smiles from both the cast and me.

Director Chris Abraham’s vision of examining the intricacies of male and female relationships remains sharply and often comically intuitive. In his Director’s Note, he credits and thanks writer Erin Shields for being there “from the beginning to tackle a play that is contemporary, troubling, hilarious and worth doing.”
Both Abraham and Shields are trusted and knowledgeable theatrical professionals. They instinctively know what they’re doing.

When a fine cast is assembled for this ‘Much Ado,’ with Abraham and Shields at the helm, the play is worth doing AND worth seeing.

Hero and Claudio are the young couple at the center of attention. Allison Edwards-Crewe and Austin Eckert sweetly reveal their love story, which unfortunately takes a dark turn when the villainous Don John tricks Claudio into believing that Hero has been unfaithful. As with most of Shakespeare's comedies, the audience is given glimpses into the malicious intentions of villains, and Michael Blake’s Don John is dashingly dastard. Patrick McManus is convincingly lifelike in his anger at his daughter Hero’s supposed indiscretion.
With all these men controlling Hero’s life, ‘Much Ado’ becomes a critical twenty-first-century commentary of a dominating patriarchal world.

However, as Hero, Allison Edwards-Crewe cautions Claudio about her awareness of the oppressive nature of the patriarchal world that nearly destroyed their marriage. As I listened carefully to the wisdom given by Hero to her intended, I felt goosebumps. Edwards-Crewe remains peacefully and stalwartly calm and convicted in advising how she, as Hero, can move forward with Claudio into marriage. It’s a theatrical highlight of the show.

Graham Abbey and Maev Beaty are excellent as Benedick and Beatrice. Their perfectly timed verbal sparring denotes clear-cut sexual tension. Another theatrical highlight of the show is their injection of physical comedy into their work. At one point, Beaty crawls around her knees at one moment and then scales from the stage's lower to the upper playing level. Abbey deliciously plays with the front row of the audience regarding the boot he’s wearing. This verbal sparring ultimately makes them understand and accept the other for who they indeed are.

Outstanding work all around. An enjoyable time at the theatre.

Running time: approximately 2 hours and 55 minutes with one interval.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ runs until October 27 at The Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford. For tickets, visit or call 1-800-567-1600.

‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING’ by William Shakespeare with additional text by Erin Shields

Directed by Chris Abraham
Designer: Julie Fox
Lighting Designer: Arun Srinivasan
Composer and Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne
Choreographer: Adrienne Gould

Performers: Graham Abbey, Anousha Alamian, Akosua Amo-Adem, Maev Beaty, Michael Blake, Déjah Dixon-Green, Austin Eckert, Allison Edwards-Crewe, Jakob Ehman, John Kirkpatrick, Kevin Kruchkywich, Josue Laboucane, Cyrus Lane, Patrick McManus, Jameela McNeil, Danté Prince, Glynis Ranney, Anthony Santiago, André Sills, Gordon Patrick White, Rylan Wilkie, Micah Woods.

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