Readers of this blog will know how much I love Thou Art Here Theatre‘s work and can guess at how excited I was to find out that they are remounting Much Ado About Nothing, one of my favourite shows of last theatre season, May 20 – 31. With last year’s run being completely sold out and only 25 tickets available each night, I’m sure this year will be similarly successful.
Alyson Dicey, one of Thou Art Here Theatre’s Artistic Associates who plays the character Don Joan in Much Ado About Nothing, says she’s looking forward to the opportunity to remount the play. “Last year was so exciting, we had sold out performances almost every night. We were actually letting in more [than 25] people… because we wanted everyone to see it. In the end, we found out it’s a better experience for audience members when it’s a smaller group.”
Thou Art Here’s production of Much Ado About Nothing takes Shakespeare’s classic text and stages it as a roving, site-specific performance in the historic Rutherford House. The audience follows the actors from location to location within Rutherford House for each scene and the costumes are straight out of the 1920s, which is when Alexander Rutherford lived in the house.
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy, but with a bit of a dark side to it. Hero (played by Marlee Yule) and Claudio (Hunter Cardinal) have fallen in love and are engaged to be married, as long as Don John’s – Don Joan (Alyson Dicey) in Thou Art Here’s production – evil plan doesn’t come to fruition. Along the way, friends of Hero and Claudio, Benedick (Ben Stevens) and Beatrice (Gianna Vacirca) are constantly in a ‘war of wits’ as an outcome of how much they hate – er, love? – each other. It’s a hilarious story, complicated by Don John’s desire for revenge in the form of ruining Hero and Claudio’s bliss.
The biggest change Thou Art Here has made to Much Ado About Nothing is changing the character Don John into Don Joan, but aside from the name and pronoun, it’s a very subtle change that reverses the Elizabethan theatrical tradition of men playing female characters and provides an interesting counter-balance to the characters of Hero and Beatrice. On changing the character’s gender, Alyson, who plays Don Joan, says, “We wanted to create more opportunities for women in the casting of our show and get some young women involves as actors. That part makes the most sense… Beatrice is one of the smartest characters in Shakespeare – she is so witty and so smart, even though in the end she gets married despite saying she would never get married. In comparison to Hero, because she’s so meek and does whatever her father tells her to and is going to pass from her father to her husband, I think that compared to Beatrice, she’s kind of her foil to show how strong Beatrice is… To add in Don Joan into the mix the way that [director] Andrew Ritchie did when he was casting is interesting. It shows all the complexities of being a woman. All different types.”
By performing Much Ado About Nothing as an immersive, site-specific show, Thou Art Here Theatre opened my eyes and helped me get a better understanding of Shakespeare’s work and the play itself. Thou Art Here’s troupe makes Shakespeare’s work accessible and totally engaging (read more in my review of last year’s production). Alyson Dicey agrees, “It’s a really cool way to experience Shakespeare, which can be hard to get into for a lot of audience members, but the way that Thou Art Here operates with site-sympathetic theatre, it’s so immersive and the experience is right there in front of you. I think it’s easier to understand the text the way that we do it…. It’s more immediate, more right in your face. If there’s an audience member that doesn’t seem to be following, it’s really easy to help them out – no one’s going to be left behind in a Thou Art Here production.”
For Alyson, playing the villain in an immersive show gives her more freedom to move away from the more heightened theatrics that are needed for the character’s motivations to read when the audience is watching a play on a traditional stage and sitting far away from the actors. “I can take [my voice] down super low, almost to a whisper, and the audience can be right there plotting along with me. I don’t have to be this huge villain, like larger than life, I can take it down to what I imagine to be this awful person plotting to destroy someone’s life, someone’s career, someone’s reputation.”
For Alyson, the role of the villain was a fun challenge to take on. “Don John/Don Joan is mad at the world, wants revenge, hates everyone, but there’s not really a back-story. Shakespeare doesn’t give you a reason other than Don John is a bastard and so he’s going to hate the world and want to get revenge because of that… I’ve been able to create my own back-story which has been really fun. It’s interesting being on the other side of everyone. Much Ado is fun – it takes place in a mansion and there are parties happening all the time and it’s in the roaring ’20s and everyone’s dressed up and having a good time and there’s a wedding and then there’s another wedding and a masquerade ball. And I’m this Debbie Downer sitting in the study being so depressed. The only thing that makes me happy is seeing other people be unhappy, so I get to plot to bring down their reputation and make sure they’ll never be happy. So I get to be on the opposite side of everyone else.”
Much Ado About Nothing plays at Rutherford House (11153 Saskatchewan Drive) May 20 – 31. Tickets are $20 in advance through YEGLive and there’s only 25 per show, so get them early!