Coming to the stage this March is the classic Shakespearean romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing.
Reimagined in the style of the early 1920s following the end of the First World War. Much Ado About Nothing tells a tale of gossip, intrigue and true love in a humorous and dynamic way.
Don Pedro, a prince, has returned from war accompanied by his faithful lieutenants, Bendick and Claudio and his bastard brother, Don John. On a visit to Don Pedro’s esteemed friend and governor of Messina Leonato, Claudio’s love for Leonato’s daughter Hero is rekindled, while Benedick reengages his merry war of wits with Leonato’s niece, Beatrice.
As weddings are planned and drinks are poured, Don John plots to disrupt this happy gathering with lies and slander …
For director Sheryl-Lynn Lewis, Much Ado About Nothing may not be the first play she’s directed but is by far the largest with 18 actors on stage and almost as half that number again working as stage managers, sound and light technicians and other support crew. Lewis is a youth care worker with SD 27 and said she does theatre in “all the rest of (her) spare time” for the last 24 years or so.
“The community theatre here is very much about building skills in people, building capacity, so if you want to try something there’s always someone willing to mentor you,” Lewis said. “I like the creative element, it’s really challenging, especially as a director where you’re sort of in charge of everything, to bring all the elements of (theatre) into some sort of cohesion so it looks and sounds right.”
One of the draws about this play for Lewis, beyond it being her favourite of his works, was the Shakespearian language and a desire to challenge the fear smaller theatres often have about running The Bard’s plays. To make it a little more fun and relatable, she chose to set the play in the jazz and speakeasies culture of the 1920s.
“It’s a boy meets girl, boy loses the girl, boy gets girl back kind of story. Only there are three sets of boys, three sets of girls and terrible misunderstandings that cause a crisis that is eventually resolved and because it’s a comedy, we end with potential weddings,” Lewis joked.
Lewis also wished to explore the themes of coming home from war and of leaving that band of brothers and moving on with one’s life. This camaraderie is something she has focused on heavily for the actors in Don Pedro’s forces.
By design, she also chose to portray the stages of a relationship through the various couples onstage. From the hot and quick young love of Hero and Claudio, the temperamental love of the middle-aged Bendick and Beatrice, the warm, comfortable balanced love of married parents in Leonato and Imogene and the familiar, long lasting true love of an elderly couple in Ursula and Verges.
“Shakespeare knows love, he knows how to write it, he knows humour, wit and hurt and it all shows (throughout the play),” Lewis said.
As this is a comedy at its core, however, Lewis believes it will be readily accessible for the layman and easy to understand. Unlike works like Macbeth or Hamlet, there are no long soliloquies to the audience and the language allows the play to flow in a conversational matter.
“I love my cast, I love every single one of their open hearts the fact that they go away and come back with something new,” Lewis said.
No matter what costumes and challenges she throws their way, from stuffy sweaters for the men and elegant dresses for the women, Lewis said her cast has risen to the occasion. In addition to understanding and memorizing their lines, Lewis has also had her actors memorize two dance routines to be carried out on her multileveled stage.
The dynamic both her actors and their characters have on stage is fascinating to watch, Lewis said, and she believes the hijinks the actors naturally get into on stage will be a big draw for lakecity audiences.
While an exact run time is not known at the time of this article, Lewis is aiming for two and a half hours with an intermission. Lewis plans to spend the next few weeks before the play goes up fine-tuning her actors’ performances, syncing the play’s lights and audio and putting the finishing touches on the set.
“Shakespeare is fun. Let’s do more. We have this ingrained thought that Shakespeare is hard, that the language is inaccessible, that it’s hard, nobody understands what’s going on and the words have no meaning. Once the actors understand what they’re saying, it’s easy to understand what they’re doing, so from an audience perspective, our actors absolutely know everything they’re saying on stage and why, so you’re just along for the ride with them,” Lewis explained.
Much Ado About Nothing begins its run March 6 to March 23, Wednesdays to Saturdays, with Lewis wishing to remind audiences the doors open at 7 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. show. On March 14 lakecity students will benefit from a discounted rate of $10 a student at the door or online, be they in elementary, high school or college. Tickets are available at the door and online for $15 March 6, 7, and $20 general audiences and $18 for seniors and students for the rest of the play’s run.