by Lynn on June 1, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast onFriday, June 1, 2012 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM. CIUT: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and CYMBELINE at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

1) Good Friday morning. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival opened this week with a full plate of theatre and Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer was there.

Hi Lynn

With so much to chose from to review, what do you have for us and why did you pick them?

There were three musical openings this week. Two Shakespeare and a contemporary classic of sorts.

Since it’s the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, I thought I would start with the two Shakespeare plays: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, a prickly love-story and CYMBELINE a play full of intrigue deception and love that is tested.

2) Elaborate first on MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. It sounds like a comedy.

Yes it’s a comedy but with serious bits underneath. Beatrice and Benedick are two of the lovers.Years before he jilted her and now she never misses a chance to give him a sharp word. Beatrice is bright, smart, independent, feisty and very funny,which is exactly how you would describe him.But we can tell she was really hurt by him.

Hero and Claudio are another pair of lovers. He’s a friend of Benedick—they have just come home triumphant from a war. Hero is Beatrice’s cousin. Claudio takes a look at Hero and it’s game over for him. The wedding is planned immediately. However, things don’t run smoothly.

A man named Don John, the evil illegitimate brother of Don Pedro, the leader of the troupe that went to war, likes to make trouble. He fixes it so that Hero’s honour is compromised the night before the wedding. Claudio is tricked into believing it and at the wedding humiliates Hero by calling her all manner of despicable names.

Beatrice and Benedick are also tricked into believing that the other has privately professed loved for the other. Benedick challenges Claudio to a dual for his false accusation and matters get rather fraught.

2) It sounds like a great way to open the season. Was it?

It certainly did bode well. Benedick is played by Ben Carlson, a hugely talented actor who has done wonderful work at both the Shaw and Stratford Festivals.

Beatrice is played by Deborah Hay, who has done fine work at the Shaw Festival of late and was lured to Stratford this summer. She has a light touch with comedy. She brings out the humanity of her characters. And an added twinkle is that she and Ben Carlson are married in real life.

It is directed by Christopher Newton who was the former Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival for many years. He certainly knows his way around comedy and plays with complex ideas. So yes, it all sounded great.

And yes, the two leads are delightful. Carlson is a stuffy Benedick, a touch pompous who handles the comedy and the lines beautifully, so that when he does profess his love it’s all the more touching.

As Beatrice, Hay is a touch flighty and yet grounded, very pointed in her beautifully delivered barbs, and still obviously hurt at the memory of Benedick’s betrayal all those years ago.

I also liked Tyrone Savage as Claudio—this is an up and coming actor. He has a good facility with the language—here is a Claudio who is deeply in love so when he feels he is being jilted he just rails, before actually asking Hero’s side of the story—lots of men do that in this play.

So lots of promise with this production but much of it went wrong.

3) How so?

Besides some lovely acting—certainly by Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay—I found Christopher Newton’s production to be dull, often unfunny, clumsily directed, with lots of subtext getting away from him or ignored.

For some reason he set it in Brazil instead of Italy where Shakespeare set it. Mystifying. Any attempt at suggesting the heat, both physically and metaphorically, fell flat, including some lame tango dances.

For some reason Newton allowed Don John the villain to be played as a buffoon. Gareth Potter plays him. He caries a cage with a cat in it. When Don John is startled he drops the cage, the cat screeches (God help us—has ‘the comedy cat’ come back?) and Don John gets laugh.


At another point Don John is trying to undo a button on his jacket and gets flustered and thrashes at it. Someone else has to undo it for him. That gets a cheesy laugh.


The text says Don John is evil, not a buffoon.

And the biggest cause for concern is Santo Loquasto’s overpowering set, mainly a staircase that meanders downward and juts into the centre of the stage. So anyone in the audience sitting on the sides, can’t see the other half of the stage because that monstrosity obstructs their view.


I have a simple solution. Take that staircase into the parking lot and burn it. And bring marshmallows.

The subtext and details that hang this play together are often ignored. The most glaring involves Margaret a servant in the household. It’s a seemingly small part but so important to the trick of discrediting Hero. We are told that a confederate of Don John, who knows Margaret, will sweet talk her at her bedroom window, the night before Hero’s wedding. The ‘sweet-talker’ will make it sound as if the person he is talking to is Hero (when it is really an unwitting Margaret). Claudio and Don Pedro will also be there to witness it.

At the wedding various servants are in attendance, including Margaret. Claudio is just waiting for his chance to jump when he asks if Hero knows any reason why the wedding should not go on. He baits her. He then lets loose accusing her of being a wanton and other cutting names. This upsets Margaret who gets up from her chair and rushes off. Why, is anyone’s guess because she does not know yet of her involvement in the trick.

Only after she leaves does Claudio reveal that he saw who he thought was Hero talking to a man late the night before. Had Margaret been present for this revelation that would have twigged her to her involvement in the ruse. But Newton misses that opportunity, and it’s not the only time. This diminishes this already dull MUCH ADO

4) OUCH.

Was Cymbeline better?


Cymbeline opened last night. This is one of Shakespeare’s little known plays written at the end of his career. It’s complex, about loyalty, fidelity, trust, intrigue, maliciousness, gullibility and love. King Cymbeline of Britain has re-married. He already has a daughter, Innogen from his previous marriage. In this new marriage he acquires a stepson named Cloten, not to far off from the word CLOD which is apt for this man.

Cymbeline wants to marry Innogen to Cloten but she is already secretly married to the noble but poor Posthumus. So Cymbeline just banishes Posthumus to get him out of the way. Innogen and Posthumus express their true love for each other as they part. Posthumus goes to Rome. A wicked man named Iachimo challenges Innogen’s loyalty by wagering Posthumus that he can seduce Innogen and bring back something that would prove his claim. The bet is on. Love and loyalty are tested.

5) So when you say HALLELUIAH does that mean you like this production?

Yup. This is a clear, vibrant production thanks to director Antoni Cimolino. You can tell that he invests a lot of time and thought into this work. He uses the Tom Patterson stage to great effect conveying the sweep and size of the story. But he doesn’t clutter the stage with set.

The set by Scott Penner is effective with a huge sweep of drapery up stage and to the side—voila, grandeur of the court. But Cimolino also captures the intimacy and complexity of various relationships—certainly with Innogen and Posthumus.

As Innogen, Cara Ricketts has a royal bearing. Graham Abbey as Innogen is a welcome return of this actor to Stratford. His poise, focus and sense of the character is compelling. He is distraught at having to leave her because of his banishment. His conviction with Iachimo that she will be true to him, and his despair when he thinks he’s lost her for good, are also gripping. This is a wonderful, all embracing performance.

As Cloten, Mike Shara is a mix of laughing goof and dangerous—which means you be very careful of this lose canon. There are many fine performances in this terrific production. Antoni Cimolino has created a production worthy of the place called the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and >CYMBELINE play at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival until the fall.

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