I left Thou Art Here Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing thinking, “That’s how Shakespeare should be performed.” And based on what I overheard from my fellow audience members, I’m not the only one who thought that.
Having been to a previous Thou Art Here Theatre (TAH Theatre) production, I sort of knew what the evening held in store, but I seriously underestimated how the group used Rutherford House to stage the play. TAH Theatre specializes in “site-specific theatre” using a roving format, where the action of the play moves around the space and the audience is expected to follow along. If you’ve never been to Rutherford House, Much Ado About Nothing gives you the opportunity to become intimately familiar with most of the building as the play is performed in the front yard, the foyer, the sun room, the kitchen, and multiple bedrooms, whisking the audience along with it.
The use of site-specific theatre in Much Ado About Nothing added a new dimension to the show that modern audiences aren’t used to. When we go to a show, we are used to sitting back in our seats, surrounded by darkness and never making eye – much less physical – contact with the actors. But there’s a reason Shakespeare’s plays are read and performed all over the world nearly 400 years after he died: his plays are profoundly emotional and the subjects are timeless. In Much Ado About Nothing, TAH Theatre capitalized on both of those traits. By giving the audience the up-close-and-personal experience of the show, the audience was intensely engaged and moved by the emotions of the show. Being so close to the actors allowed the audience to access many more nuances of the script and the actor’s range of expressions than performances of Shakespeare in larger, less intimate venues. The closer you are to the actors, the better you can hear the whispers between conspirators or see the love-struck gaze between two soul-mates meeting for the first time. It was great to watch the audience get more and more engaged throughout the duration of the show. Typical Canadians, we started out moving from room to room politely and sequentially, but before long people were picking up the pace to get to the next scene, taking any path they could to get to the next space ahead of the crowd. Come intermission, I got the feeling that no one really needed an intermission – we just wanted the show to keep rolling.
With my last trip to Rapid Fire being just last weekend, I was thrilled to see Hunter Cardinal (as Claudio) and Amy Shostak (as Dogberry) flexing some different performance muscles in Much Ado About Nothing. When waiting for the audience to shuffle between rooms, the actors were also given the opportunity to do some improv work, which was done really well. While always in character, some more “modern” phrases worked their way into the speech, delighting audiences. Probably my favourite improv moment was when Verges (David Barnet) had Borachio (Mark Vetsch) pinned against a wall as he was arresting him. The smaller cast than the traditional script also allowed moments for audience participation in small (non-intimidating!) roles, which delighted the rest of the audience.
I also appreciated the way the script was adapted. I’m sure most people know that Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed by all male casts. Although this tradition is flaunted in every production of Shakespeare I’ve seen to date, TAH Theatre flung off this gender exclusion in an even more overt way, turning Don John into Don Joan (played by Alyson Dicey) and having Amy Shostak play the constable Dogberry. These changes allowed the theme of gender roles and expectations to become even more prominent in the play – much more prominent than I had expected from a show written in the 1500’s. I particularly loved Don Joan’s first extended scene where she speaks about her position and the expectations of the way she should act.
I highly suggest you check out Much Ado About Nothing at Rutherford House (11153 Saskatchewan Drive) before it closes on May 16th. Make sure you dress for the weather and for walking and standing for approximately 2 1/2 hours. Only 25 people can attend each show. Tickets are $15 – $20 and can be bought at Tix on the Square or at the door.