Sunday 10 February 2019

Much Ado About Nothing rings out in classic, clever Classic Chic style
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Whether as in Billy Bard's time men play women or in 2019 women play men, certain tell-tale Shakespearean memes are an "evermore, evermore" proposition : Trickery. Knavery. Mistaken identity. Scheming. Masques and miscues. 

And whether done razzle-dazzle in an ersatz Frederico Fellini set (Bard, 2017) or stripped to the bare essentials as Classic Chic does in 2019, the storyline changes not : men are fickle souls, their prospective spouses victims of whim, instant jealousy and rage. Soldiers they may be, but their tough hides mask skin that is thin indeed. 

On view is the fourth production by this troupe of women whose tag-line is "Chicks bringing class to the classics." Now that slogan may not meet 3rd gen. feminist standards, but its tongue-in-cheekiness reflects why they are one of my local favourites. 

Director Rebecca Patterson's largely barefoot version at The Cultch Historic Theatre accomplishes lots with little : virtually no set at all other than scalloped floor-to-ceiling curtains and an Ikea coffee table. That's it. (So little not even a Set Designer credit in the program.)

Cousins Beatrice (Christina Wells Campbell) and Hero (Sereana Malanai) do a whirligig garden caper as the men who will chase them till the women catch them come home from war and have their eyes on a lasting peace. 
Photo credit from CC files
What strikes one instantly is how having such limited visuals to distract (amuse, engage, catch) the eye allows, nay, Demands! that the viewer pay particular attention to the dialogue and all its 17th century intrigue & playfulness. 

Parallel love stories unfold. Teen-age chums who survived on sarcastic spittle back and forth -- Benedick and Beatrice -- are now 20-somethings orbiting anew around one another. They still mock and tease and jibe back and forth ceaselessly. Until they run so fast away from one another they crash together on the roundabout. As BLR has noted previously of these two  characters, it is classic Liz Taylor meets Richard Burton stuff. 

Co-founders of Classic Chic, Christine Wells Campbell and Corina Akeson, are Beatrice and Benedick. What struck this viewer particularly in CC's version is how more-than-equal Beatrice is in wit and cunning and verbal swordplay to the macho and vain Benedick. (His Latin-root name was surely not chosen by that clever scamp BillyB by accident.) 

Don Pedro (Kayla Deorksen), dad Leonato (Barbara Pollard) and Claudio (Adele Noronha) conspire to get Benedick to believe the elusive Beatrice has the hots for him.
Photo credit from CC files
They have a "merry war" between them. He predicts that should he ever fall he will be "horribly in love". By play's end he says "I suffer love in spite of my heart." And Beatrice responds : "You and I are too wise to woo peaceably." They wind up dragged to the altar still hissing their charmed reluctance that presages a life of endless spicy dialogue.

The core of the plot, however, involves wartime buddy Claudio (Adele Noronha) who falls instantly arse-over-elbow for Beatrice's cousin Hero (Sereana Malani) upon returning from the wars with battalion chief Don Pedro (Kayla Deorksen). They are so smitten they are to be married in a heartbeat. But Don Pedro's bastard brother Don John (Sara Vickruck) is wracked by bile, poison and vengeance. Anything remotely happy he feels an obligation to spoil.

And spoil he does with malevolent chicanery and deceit : soon Claudio and Don Pedro think she's a cheap tramp. Her dad Leonato (Barbara Pollard) wishes her dead. But at the urging of the kindly Friar Francis (Bronwen Smith), her death is faked until Hero's trumped-up infidelity can be found out. Soon she is "redeemed" and resurrected just in time for her and her cousin to dance down the aisle with their men in a double wedding.

An interesting wee twist at show's end : Billy cuts it all quick with a messenger announcing how the treacherous Don John has been captured. Don Pedro moves instinctively to intercept his judas brother. Benedick restrains him : "Think not of him till tomorrow, I'll devise thee brave punishments for him." As the pipers pipe and the wedding parade proceeds to the wings, director Patterson's version, however, has Don Pedro and Don John share a substantial and forgiving hug downstage.

So. Two primary takeaways at least from this CC production. Beatrice is no flippant glib lighthead in the least -- as her part is often directed to be -- and revenge is not high virtue, rather forgiveness is.

Perhaps most fun schtick in Patterson's staging is having Benedick crawl up the aisles and across three rows of seats as he listens to Claudio, Don Pedro and Leonato scheme with a tale they know he hears hiding in the garden. They succeed :  albeit somewhat quizzically, he now is led to believe Beatrice actually loves him. Which is a classic factoid : it stands a 50% chance of being, or not being, true.

But equally fun is when Beatrice squirms squeezing and squinched under the Ikea bench in the garden while Hero and maidservant Ursula (CK Kaur) sit on it and blithely spin a tale about how crazy and bewitched Benedick has become for her in recent daze. Turnabout is fair play.

As Leonato, Pollard delivers a powerful performance, while Kayla Deorksen's Don Pedro was across the night a delight of facial gesticulation. Ever-expressive and slick in delivery, both Akeson and Campbell impressed their ample talents on the crowd. Sara Vickruck's twin turns as the craven and pusillanimous Don John -- plus her priceless delivery of constable Dogberry with his endless thesaurus of malapropisms -- were each notable for her precise and clipped projection. 

On the production side of the ledger, special mention to costume designer Sherry Randall's inspired choice of Nova Scotia sou-wester gear for Insp. Dogberry's night watch crew. As perfect as it was surprising!  For her part, CJ McGillivray chose "world music" numbers that were fresh, accessible and various in style. A more unique cover of The Animals' 1965 classic "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" [see Addendum] cannot exist anywhere. And what an understatement for the MAAN script to boot.
That I am an unapologetic and shameless fan of the Classic Chic clique is obvious. They always deliver their stuff with pizazz and punch and poignance. If Billy B. had men do women, these women do men even badder than him. This show I would go see again with neither tittle nor jot of hesitation. Brava! all.

Particulars :  Written by Bill. Adapted by Rebecca Patterson. Produced by the Classic Chic theatre troupe. Performed at The Cultch. Through February 16th, 2019.  Run-time two hours -plus- intermission. Tickets by phone 604.251.1363 -or- via the internet at the Cultch.  CC's website 

Production crew :  Director Rebecca Patterson.  Composer and Sound Designer CJ McGillivray.  Lighting Designer Jillian White.  Scenic Painter Omanie Elias.  Costume Designer Sherry Randall  Fight Director Rachel Scott.  Choreographer Lisa Goebel.  Stage Manager Ingrid Turk. Assistant Stage Manager Victoria Snashall. Technical Director Nicole Weissmuller.  

Performers :  Corina Akeson (Benedick, Verges).  Christina Wells Campbell (Beatrice, George Seacoal).  Kayla Deorksen (Don Pedro).  CK Kaur (Conrade; Balthasar; Ursula); Nancy Kerr (Antonio, Hugh Oatcake, Sexton).  Serena Malani (Hero, First Watchman).  Adele Noronha (Claudio).  Barbara Pollard (Leonato).  Bronwen Smith (Borachio, Friar Francis).  Victoria Snashall (Boy).  Sarah Vickruck (DonJohn, Dogberry).

Addendum :  Queried by BLR on the subject, Composer & Sound Designer CJ McGillivray had this to say about the musical backdrop to CC's version of MAAN :

These songs were our starting inspiration point for some of the music as they were sourced from Rebecca's immense collection of world music. I then sourced a mix of contemporary music across a broad range of cultures and contrasting genres to flesh out the overall sound design. 

Opening Number:
Ya Gle Bey by Dania Khatib
(a Lebanese singer)

Cover of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood:
Lolole by Radio Tarifa
(a Spanish world music ensemble combining Flamenco, Arab-Andalusian, Arabian, Moorish and Mediterranean music.)

The Haunting Ballad:
Shir Ha’keshet by Alabina
(a French group that performs a mix of world music including Middle Eastern, Arabic, French, Hebrew and Spanish music)


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