Thursday Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing

I am not a religious man. Still, I have managed to pick up a few Judeo-Christian nuggets over the years. Here's one I think more or less sums up vast swathes of the New Testament:

Sharing is good.

And the best kind of sharing is when someone has a lot of something gives it to someone who has very little. Such is the philosophy embraced by DreamNorth Theatre Company, who for the second year is taking a Shakespearean play from relatively theatre rich Toronto, and exporting it to the theatre-poor Yukon. A neat idea, made all the better by the fact that their version of Much Ado About Nothing is very good. Thankfully, Toronto audiences still have a few days to catch this show at Fort York before it packs up and heads north.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare's better comedies, a fun mix of wit, romance and intrigue. It also features some of ol' Bill's more incisive views on love and marriage, something rather appealing to a curmudgeon like myself. Everything you want from Shakespeare- the zingy one-liners, the breathy lovers, the zany plots- is amply supplied by Much Ado, making it an ideal show for the aficianado and the casual viewer alike.

Of course, none of Much Ado's charm is possible without a top-drawer cast. To a person, the DreamNorth ensemble does an admirable job. While the company occasionally lacks the detailed performance chops of Shakespeare vets, they more than compensate with spirit. The cast looks like they're having the time of their lives, and that energy is infectious. As a play, Much Ado turns on the characters of Benedick and Beatrice and the stormy relationship between the two. Actors Philip Borg and Paula Schultz are standouts in these roles, providing much of the production's best comedic moments. Borg plays Benedick as a bundle of contradictions, his arrogance and wit battling his various neuroses and moony romanticism for control. This tension makes for a great performance, certainly one of the performance's many highlights.

Director Craig Walker manages to reign in the high-energy cast, creating a focused and fast-moving production. He's also done a nice job of helping the actors find the play's comedy, inserting a series of well-timed and surprising gags. Too often I've gone to see a Shakespeare comedy that seemed to forget it was supposed to be funny. Walker's Much Ado revels in the play's bawdy wit, with often hilarious results.

The play's outdoor setting is both a strength and a weakness. Fort York is a perfect place for a period production, and an apparently useful source of period costumes. However, the noise from the adjoining train tracks and Gardiner can be a bit distracting. I suspect the show will really hit its stride when it moves north, as the Yukon is largely free urban expressways, rail lines and indeed, people.

So why do a show in the Yukon? My own experience with the territory suggests that Yukoners are an artistic lot. Trouble is, there is precious little theatre for these northerners to enjoy, save the occasional Klondike review done for the benefit of tourists. DreamNorth was created to combat this drought, simultaneously providing Yukoners with quality professional theatre and giving a once-in-a-lifetime experience to young Toronto actors in one of Canada's most beautiful places. Everybody wins.

Much Ado About Nothing
continues its very limited Toronto run at Fort York until June 8th. To reserve tickets, email info@dreamnorth.ca.

Photo: Phillip Borg as Benedick and Paula Schultz as Beatrice.

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