Bard on The Beach – The Big Tent
Until September 23rd
So you are thinking it is time to see some Shakespeare and in particular see it at Bard on The Beach but perhaps you have some trepidation. You studied a little bit in high school but you don’t really consider yourself an expert beyond knowing that “To be or not to be” is from Hamlet…or maybe MacBeth.
So before shelling out the money to pick one of the 4 shows offered this year I will try to help you about the shows in the big tent.
First you should know that there are two tents. The BMO Mainstage, which often has the back of the stage open so you can see the beach and the mountains. Then there is the smaller enclosed tent called The Douglas Campbell Theatre. Normally the big tent hosts the more popular or well-known plays, regulating the lesser known to the smaller stage.
Shylock by Mark Leiran-Young is also offered this year for a one week run in September.
Each tent features a company of actors who perform in both shows in their tent. Usually a big part in one show and smaller part in the other show.
So now let’s look at the two in the big tent.
One is considered a challenging play because it does not cleanly fall into the traditional categories attributed to Shakespeare: Dramas, Comedies and Histories. So scholars made a new category and called it Romances. They include: Two Gentleman of Verona, Pericles The Prince of Tyre, The Tempest, Cymbeline and this year’s pick, The Winter’s Tale.
The other show in the big tent is a comedy called Much Ado About Nothing and like many of the comedies it is a trifle, a diversion and a frothy bit of fun.
So if you have never been to Bard which of these two should you see? Well both have much to recommend so lets take a closer look.
The Winter’s Tale directed by Dean Paul Gibson starts off very seriously as King Leontes accuses his pregnant wife Herimone of fooling around with his friend and neighbor, King Polixenes. He jails her and when she dies in child birth he gives the infant to a servant so it can be placed on the rocks and killed by the elements.
Fate, and a bear, intervene and the baby is saved.
Flash forward 16 years and the babe grows into a young woman named Perdita and she is in love with Polixene’s son, Florizel. Their kingdom is filled with puppets and masked characters and some of the characters burst into song.
That is marked contrast to Leontes Kingdom with its oppressive with rigid pillars and formal behaviour.
The design elements by costumer Carmen Alatorre and set designer Pam Johnson are flowing and in a slightly stylized period. The toga’s blowing in the wind was visually striking, as was the giant bear puppet by Heidi Wilkinson and Francis Henry.
Some standouts in the acting were: Ben Elliott as a small time thief, Lois Anderson as a devoted friend to the queen and Chris Cochrane as a young shepherd.
The first half of the story is tough because the brutish king rages on and on so hatefully about his wife. It takes an hour before we get to Bohemia and things lighten up.
However the ending is about reconciliation and forgiveness and was surprisingly moving mostly because Sereana Malani fills the queen with so much quiet grace.
So first time Bard goers might find this show too wordy and slow moving for the first hour and the surreal elements about the return of the Queen hard to rationalize.
So let’s jump over to Much Ado About Nothing directed by John Murphy. Right off the top you notice that you can’t see the skyline because the back of stage is done up like giant film studio doors. It’s 1959 and we are behind the scenes at an Italian movie. Everyone and everything is in black and white.
Enter two characters Beatrice and Benedict (who in the interpretation are actors) but who don’t really like each other. They jibe and insult each other. Benedict’s friend Claudio has fallen in love with Hero the director’s daughter. They all go to relax at a country villa along with some other industry types including the trouble-making Dona Johnna who obviously saw The Winter’s Tale because she tell Claudio that his girlfriend is fooling around on her. He responds but humiliating her in public.
In the mean time the rest of the film crew is trying to convince Benedict and Beatrice that they love it each other.
One of the nicest elements in Mr. Murphy’s vision is that Christine Reimer’s black and white costumes start sprouting colour via some inventive staging. The music and the choreographed dances also add a crisp panache to the whole event.
Standout actors in this productions include: Amber Lewis and Kevin MacDonald as Beatrice and Benedict, Ashley O’Connell as security guard Dogberry and Parmiss Sehat as Hero.
This show is visually arresting and for first time Bard goers it is easier to follow and much of the comedy acting is very funny. It’s got a bewitching mix of sass and class.
So of the two if you were thinking of sampling some Bard, I think this year go to the big tent and see Much Ado About Nothing.
I hope that helps and let me know which one you see and what you thought.
David C. Jones