For the next three weeks Shakespeare will probably have more of a presence in Williams Lake than he has had in a while.
Williams Lake Studio Theatre’s ambitious and wonderful version of Much Ado About Nothing opens Wednesday, March 6 and runs Wednesday to Saturday until March 23.
With a mammoth cast of 18, crew of 14 and another 12 people who helped bring the play to life, such lines as “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me” or “Some cupid kills with arrows, some with traps,” will probably permeate coffee breaks and dinner conversations.
While the set, the costumes and the music are top-notch, the actors tackle the challenging language with ease.
Director Sheryl-Lynn Lewis said working with the actors and Shakespeare’s words was one of her favourite aspects.
“They each have developed their own character and personality within that character,” she explained in between the first and second act during Monday evening’s dress rehearsal. “You have the army — the men in beige — when they first come on stage. Every one of them is distinct and different.”
There are the five female roles and each of their characters are different and interesting to watch, she added.
“I spent many, many evenings, as have all the actors, going through the words and figuring out what they meant and what did they mean in modern language so the actors knew them inside and out.”
Audiences will be reminded of why the Bard’s artistry endures and how much fun community theatre companies can have adapting his stories and putting their own spin on it.
In this case, Lewis chose to set the story in the late 1919 to 1920 period.
“The play calls for people coming back from a major war,” Lewis said. “I had just directed Mary’s Wedding and was very familiar with the First World War, which I loved. It’s also a real time of cultural shift in terms of stronger women and women taking on stronger roles having worked in the factories. They were finding their own place in the world.”
Lewis credited Stuart Wright, who expertly plays Benedick, with helping her through her first time directing a Shakespeare play.
Wright has directed and acted in Shakespeare plays before, she said, adding “out of all of us I think he has the most familiarity with it.”
“We talked over coffee quite a bit in the summer to get an idea of what was going on in the story,” Lewis said. “Our modern sensibilities would not react in the same way they did in Shakespeare’s time, but in this case we go along with it and we suspend disbelief.”
Beatrice, vibrantly portrayed by Jennifer McPhee, is a strong modern woman. Thanks to the play being set in the 1919-1920-era, it gives her the opportunity to break free of societal conventions.
The Tribune’s own arts and culture reporter, Patrick Davies, who arrived on the job in September, has sunk his teeth into the local theatre scene with the role of Claudio. He brings lots of passion and comfortableness to stage. His distaste for his fiancé, Hero, when he suspects her infidelity, is felt clear to the rafters.
Hero, played by Megan Monds, is believable and commanding, with a nice sense of comedic timing.
There is a copious amount of alcohol (water with apple juice) consumption on stage and Will Reierson as Borachio, has fun with his inebriation.
Pauline Bob-King, in a play for a second time, has fun in her scenes, and looks great in a man’s suit by the way.
Curt Sprickerhoff as Leonato, masterfully tackles one of the toughest scenes where he casts aside his daughter, Hero, believing she has sullied her honour. It really is heart-breaking but Sprickerhoff is believable.
Mimi Searls as Hero’s mother, Imogene, is appropriately docile until her mother-bear instincts kick in and she blasts Claudio and his fellow-soldier Don Pedro, played by Dan Patterson, for their cruelty to Hero.
Patterson, who has performed in several Studio Theatre productions, develops a believable camaraderie with his fellow soldiers Claudio and Benedick.
Tanis Armstrong returns to the stage, after being mom of a young one again, with fiery passion to portray Margaret.
Norma Weatherby, as Ursula, just seems to go with the flow, adding humourous expressions and movements to her performance.
Peter Hunt as Dogberry is reminiscent of Michael Keaton’s portrayal in the 1993 movie version and equally as funny. Helping his scenes along are the Watch portrayed by Kate Bertenshaw and Niamae Bensen.
Bertenshaw also shares her musical talents as Balthasar, for which she learned the ukulele.
Matt Granlund stepped into the role of Verges II a few weeks ago, and looks right at home.
Michael Rawluk as Friar Francis, displays how he can make an audience chuckle from the simple act of moving chairs and then a few moments later being the only one brave enough to stand up for Hero’s honour by pleading with her father.
Lee Moffat, as Don John, is the story’s only real villain and plays the role with subtlety, making his character that more devious.
As Much Ado About Nothing is a romantic comedy, there are no deaths, but there could well have been all because a woman is condemned and cast aside as unworthy due to a big lie.
Even though the play was written in 1598, it is a reminder that humans can be very quick to jump to conclusions and judge others quickly.
Lewis said five years ago she would not have been ready to direct a Shakespeare play.
Fortunately she decided to challenge herself along with everyone at Williams Lake Studio Theatre.
Tickets are available at the door and online at the Theatre’s website.