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Much ado about Shakespeare with AFTLS

Sara Felsenstein | Monday, January 26, 2009

The Actors from the London Stage will perform Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Washington Hall. The performance will feature actors Peter Bankolé, Thusitha Jayasundera, Stephen Rashbrook, Joannah Tincey and Charlie Walker-Wise.

Actors from the London Stage, one of the oldest established touring Shakespeare groups in the world, has been around for 33 years. The company is based in England but produced on campuses nation-wide by Shakespeare at Notre Dame. There are no directors involved in their performances – instead, the group collaborates to determine the best way to portray Shakespeare’s text. They tour universities twice a year and will perform at seven different campuses stretching from North Carolina to Hawaii this spring.

Not only do they bring their acting talents to students across the country, but they also spend much of their time during the week in university classrooms, conducting workshops, text readings and stage demonstrations.

The group is well known in the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities, as they have previously performed “A Winter’s Tale, “Merchant of Venice,” “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello,” as well as other Shakespeare classics at Notre Dame.

The AFTLS are known for their minimalist approach to theater, using only five actors to portray a great number of characters, and very few props to help distinguish between them. Since these five actors compose the entire cast, quick character changes during the show are frequent. Their stage is generally bare, with the exception of one or two objects that are recycled throughout the play to represent different things.

Because there are few visual aids, the audience must be intimately engaged in the performance, hanging on every word and gesture of the actors before them.

This type of performance gives more freedom to the actors. It can especially be a thrill for Shakespeare lovers who pick up the hints of sarcasm, humor or irony the AFTLS draw from Shakespeare’s words with just a slight change of intonation or facial expression.

However, as exciting as this bare-bones type of performance can be for some, it can also be difficult to grasp for someone who has no familiarity with the plotline of the play. It is a good idea to freshen up on the background of “Much Ado About Nothing” before seeing the AFTLS performance.

“Much Ado About Nothing” takes place in Messina, Italy, where a prince by the name of Don Pedro and his deputies Claudio and Benedict have returned home from a victorious battle. Leonato, the governor of Messina, welcomes the heroes and invites them to stay for a month and attend a masquerade ball. Claudio has fallen in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero. At the masquerade ball, Don Pedro begins wooing Hero on Claudio’s behalf, but Don John tells Claudio that his brother – Don Pedro – is really wooing Hero for himself. Fortunately the misunderstanding is short-lived, and soon Claudio and Hero are due to be wed.

Don John, however, still conspires to ruin Claudio and Hero’s wedding. He sets up a trick to make Claudio think that Hero is already unfaithful. At the wedding, Claudio, who was once swooning in love for Hero, refuses to marry her.

He publicly shames Hero, who faints from the shock. Hero’s family decides to have her fake her death, so that Claudio’s grief will bring out the truth.

Claudio greatly repents his actions and agrees to marry any substitute in Hero’s place. During his second wedding the supposed “cousin” he was meant to marry removes her mask, and Claudio sees the beautiful Hero before him, alive after all. The play, one of the Bard’s best-loved comedies, then ends happily.

Whether you’re a self-proclaimed Shakespeare fanatic or you simply want to broaden your theater horizons with this unique performance, go see “Much Ado About Nothing” at Washington Hall this week.

Performances are at 7:30 on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tickets are on sale at the Lafortune box office for $20, $18 for faculty, staff and seniors, and $12 for all students. For more information, visit performingarts.nd.edu.