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‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Revitalizes Shakespeare

| Monday, September 22, 2014

web_shakespeareSara Shoemake
We’ve all been in that high school English class. Seated in an uncomfortable desk, we watched as the teacher pulled out Shakespeare to a chorus of sighs and groans. Unlike my vocal classmates, I was indifferent to Shakespeare’s works. While studying and readying in order to watch a performance that was part of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, I maintained my apathy. After bursting with laughter at least once during every scene, however, my attitude to the almighty Shakespeare has changed.

“Much Ado About Nothing” ran at Washington Hall from September 17 to 19 during the 15th season of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival. Performed by Actors from the London Stage, this rendition of the classic play reflected the brilliance of Shakespeare and the humor laced throughout the rather light-hearted story.

The plot revolves around a quaint estate nestled in the heart of Sicily. The proprietor Leonato (Claire Redcliffe) cares for the house with two eligible women who become the focus of the play: his docile daughter, Hero (Claire Redcliffe), and his quick-witted niece, Beatrice (Georgina Strawson). Disrupting the quiet life, Leonato’s friends, prince Don Pedro (Al Barclay), Claudio (Jack Whitam) and Benedick (Paul O’Mahoney) return from war. The gullible Claudio courts Hero, and Benedick banters with Beatrice. During this time, Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John (Georgina Strawson), develops a plan to ruin Hero, and the story unfolds with treachery, death, and, like every Shakespeare comedy, marriage.

The drama between lovers occurred upon a simply-set stage, allowing the imagination to take over as five actors played all eighteen major characters. Despite the lack of actors and the fact that women played male characters and vice versa, the character portrayals were spot-on. Through precise gestures and exaggerated expressions, Benedick was able to spar heatedly with Beatrice, and the bumbling Watch (Claire Redcliffe) were able to track down traitors with a sinister umbrella. As actors switched roles while still on stage, the transitions were fairly fluid and had a touch of comedy.

The humor was tasteful as well. The actors, who also directed the scenes, trimmed the script in order to find the humor that contemporary audiences would understand. When acted out on the stage, lines that would elicit a small smile upon reading caused roaring laughter. From the muttering of “The Imperial March” when the villain emerged to the overuse of the tune “Greensleeves,” the added contemporary humor spiced the show with a sprinkle of modern references to make the play more relevant to the audience.

Despite the contemplation put into transitions, several of the character swaps between a single actor were jarring, but were not detrimental to the overall performance. The plot, as per Shakespeare, was slightly shallow and stereotypical of comedies. With the addition of modern references and the extraction of humor from most lines, however, the actors successfully brought an antique play to life within the modern theater despite the hindrances caused by old language.

In conclusion, the Actors from the London Stage’s rendition of “Much Ado About Nothing” was spectacular, and I would recommend viewing their work during subsequent Shakespeare festivals. Rolling in my seat with laughter, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of “Much Ado About Nothing,” for the acting and humor brought out the best of Shakespeare.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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