Much Ado about Much Ado about Nothing

The Georgia Straight said, “This is Shakespeare at its sharpest and most satisfying.”

Bard on the Beach‘s 2017 production of Much Ado About Nothing is visually spectacular and very well acted. Director John Murphy adapted this 1598 Shakespearean comedy and set it in 1950s Italy where the characters are glamorous film stars wearing tailored suits with skinny neckties or lacy cocktail dresses dangling cigarettes from their lips and riding off on Vespas.

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Waiting for the show to begin

The costumes and setting alone make this play a delight. Daringly minimalist, it features a few director’s chairs, boom mics, movie camera, and a large pair of “Studio B” doors as the backdrop that opens and closes to reveal slices of Vancouver scenery. The first act plays out in black and white, and gradually more colour is introduced “when love enters the picture” according to Pam Johnson, the scenery designer.

As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the dialogue is witty and quick, but I particularly found the language harder to follow in this one than other Bard plays. Luckily the visuals largely make up for this, but I still would have liked to catch more than 50-60%!

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Bard on the Beach tents in Vancouver

There are basically two strands to the plot: 1) Beatrice and Benedick, both stubbornly single and opinionated, take every opportunity to insult each other. Their friends hatch an elaborate plan to matchmake them. 2) Benedick’s friend Claudio falls in love with Beatrice’s cousin Hero and the two are set to be married.

Where’s the tension that moves the plot forward? That’s the part that confused me. It comes from the villain Dona Johnna, sister to Don Pedro, a famous film director. The synopsis in the program guide says she is a journalist and wannabe filmmaker, but that doesn’t explain why she devises her own elaborate plan to ruin Hero’s honour and break up her wedding to Claudio. I caught that she is jealous of her brother but how is interfering in Hero and Claudio’s relationship revenge for her brother’s success? Apparently my friend and I aren’t the only ones wondering about her motivation—Marsha Lederman in The Globe and Mail comments on this too. Again, is this because we couldn’t understand the Elizabethan English or because the plot is weak?

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Members of the cast in the Bard on the Beach production of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by David Blue.

While Much Ado About Nothing is a lot of fun, it has more of a darker side to it than I expected from a Shakespearean comedy. A fiance disgraces his lover and a father renounces his daughter. A character is believed to be dead. Another character asks someone to murder a friend.

While all turns to happiness and dancing in the end, it certainly isn’t the uproarious and easily accessible comedy that last year’s Merry Wives of Windsor was.

Much Ado About Nothing is playing at Bard on the Beach in Vancouver until September 23.

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An Olympic poem in honour of the athletes

Shakespeare said

all the world’s a stage

and the world’s watching London

 

I’m watching it

on a television screen

and little snippets I can

sneak in here and there

on my computer

when I’m supposed to be working

I’m not the only one, right?

 

For two weeks

every four years

the world is watching,

cheering,

crying,

getting inspired

 

we can’t get enough

of excellence

of seeing one of ours get

awarded with a medal

and hearing that song —

our song

fill the stadium

more goosebumps than I ever got from standing in the cold

 

then the athletes

come and go

and we say,

“see you in four years”

as if four years

happens as fast

as pressing power on the remote

 

athletes, you’re on,

but what about all that time

in-between when you’re not on?

toiling away in obscurity,

like this warning sign from Cambridge’s website

to deter all but the most dedicated graduate students,

You will spend long hours in the library working on a topic which on a black day might seem to be of interest to no one else in the world. You should bear in mind that you will probably be poor, and that you will almost certainly have to spend a great deal of time reading material which you find unappetizing in order to master your chosen field.

So British, eh?

no sugar-coating, no beating around the bush

You could substitute gym for library,

training for reading,

and say the same thing

for athletes and their 6 am practices,

sacrifices,

and persistence in

repeating the same strokes, lifts, throws, routines,

to be as best as they can be

 

when the world finally opens its eyes

and all that toiling in darkness

comes into light

and we celebrate with you

because you’re glowing

 

but what about those times when you do better in the dark?

when you race the fastest

without the pressure of

a million eyes

 

on and off

aren’t just settings on TV

we take it for granted

you’ll always be around

doing what you love

because that’s what you do, right?

you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer

you’ll always be one

 

but sometimes this really is

goodbye

and we probably won’t appreciate

everything you did

until we don’t see you in Rio

because there’s nothing more present

than absence

 

you’re off the stage

the curtain closes

and our watching turns to remembering.

 

to all the athletes who toil away in obscurity

to those who shine in the spotlight and those who shine when it’s off

and to those whose last act is London – Clara Hughes, Brent Hayden, Simon Whitfield,

this one’s for you — 

thank you.

by Charlene Kwiatkowski

Clara Hughes. “I really hope that maybe people will remember the way that I did what I did. Not what I did, but the way in which I did it.”

Brent Hayden. “I think tonight was just about digging down deep, right into my soul . . . There are so many times when you dream about something and a million out of a million-and-one times, it won’t come true.”

“Yeah, it was hard. It was hard to see my daughter upset, my wife upset, and I was pretty upset. Ah, that’s life. That means it means something, doesn’t it?”

A Story of Origins

I can’t get London off my mind. After a dazzling opening ceremonies last night that poignantly captured British history and culture, my heart went back to 2009 when I visited the city for the first time.

It was summer of my 3rd year in university. Being an English minor and knowing I wanted to eventually do my Master’s in English Lit, I knew I also couldn’t go further in this field without taking a trip to the birthplace of what I was studying. It may sound silly but I really felt I had to experience the origin of what I loved to love it even more – as if a dark cloud would be hanging over me and my academic future if I didn’t make this trip. I had to go.

I went with so much expectation, hoping to find answers about where I should study for grad school (Canada or England?) and what area I should specialize in (17th century, Romantic, Victorian, or modern literature?) I came back without much clarity on these questions (I’ve learned that when I want a big revelation in life, I don’t get it), but I did come back with a magical summer I like to relive every now and then.

Herstmonceux Castle, England

I studied literature at a castle about 45 min south of London (see pic above) – yes, a castle with sheep baaing out my bedroom window and a Shakespearean garden where I read As You Like ItThe Winter’s Tale, Oliver Twist and Mrs. Dalloway. How much more British can you get? It felt like I was transported into a fairy tale world, or maybe Harry Potter. Not only did I read Shakespeare’s plays but I experienced them in their original form, performed at the Globe theatre in London, where I stood so close to the stage I could see the sweat dripping from the actor’s faces.

front-line view of the Globe Theatre, London

After the six-week program at the Castle was complete, I did my own literary tour through the UK.

With my bucket-list of places to visit that I had only experienced second-hand through books, I traipsed through England, Scotland, and Wales to see places like this first-hand:

Tintern Abbey, Wales

Romantic poet William Wordsworth made this abandoned Cisterian monastery famous in his lyrical poem, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” Did the words ever come alive when I was reading them in the space that inspired them!

How oft, in darkness, and amid the many shapes / Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir / Unprofitable, and the fever of the world, / Have hung upon the beatings of my heart, / How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee / O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods / How often has my spirit turned to thee!

Overlooking the River Wye, Wales

“While here I stand, not only with the sense of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts that in this moment there is life and food for future years.”

Early grey tea and a poem. Couldn’t have been happier

I’m looking back on this trip three years ago and realize there was life and food in it for future years, even though I didn’t see it at the time. I took a course that summer called “Literature and Place” that ended up having a huge influence on my interests in grad school. We took field trips to London to regularly walk the city like a character in a novel, travel the tube, and get to know the city that provides a muse for so many writers.

This London course began in me a fascination with literature and cities that hasn’t ended yet – nor do I want it to. I applied a lot of what I learned in London to my Canadian home context, Vancouver, when I wound up doing grad school (in Canada), and I’m still exploring ideas from the course in my current creative and non-fiction writing. So I guess London hasn’t left me yet, nor left me unchanged . . .

Needless to say, because of this background, I loved the literary references in last night’s ceremonies. Did any part of the long 4-hour ceremony strike a special London memory with you?

Children representing the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the NHS and children’s literature take part in the Opening Ceremony. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)