Hart House Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing isn’t your average take on the Shakespeare classic. Director Carly Chamberlain’s passion for theatre shines through as she interprets a complex story about entangled lovers and grappling with identity.
“It’s a play about love and pride and jealousy,” Chamberlain said, “and all the hurtful and funny things that come out of when all those things clash with each other.”
The play marks Hart House Theatre’s annual Shakespeare production. Chamberlain explains that there is a resonating quality to this type of production, because it evokes a broad spectrum of emotions that can be described as a kaleidoscope of love.
Chamberlain admits that staging a 400-year-old play can be challenging, but that’s part of the excitement. She first decided to consider the role of women in the play. Then, she did some “trimming” and “rearranging” of the text to adapt the play for a modern audience.
Themes of femininity and love populate the play, but Chamberlain explains that the “major thematic paradox” centres on masks and hiding. “We put up masks, we put up walls in order to protect ourselves from being hurt, but that mask or those walls are actually the thing that get in the way of us ever really connecting,” Chamberlain says. This leads to the questioning of which is worse: “to risk pain or to never connect”? She places this question at the centre of the play to encourage the audience to reflect on their own willingness to form meaningful connections with the world around them.
The play was not easy to stage. Chamberlain recounts having to extensively research the different readings and translations of the text. “There’s a different kind of freedom in that. I really love the task of taking an old play and not having the answers and having to just dig into it,” she says.
Appealing to students can sometimes be a tricky task, made no less difficult by the nature of Shakespeare’s works. “I don’t think that anyone has to respect Shakespeare or love Shakespeare… For me, I think what is exciting is he was a prolific writer with such a skill with language. I mean, so many of our turns of phrases and words that we use all the time now are words that he actually invented,” she says.
Despite the age of the play, Much Ado About Nothing’s actors say that they understand the experience of the characters and what they’re going through.
Chamberlain has worked hard to try to convey a sense of a shared experience, but she notes: “rather than trying to make something that you can say universally [that everyone will relate to], my hope is that we work with a level of depth and detail with each performance and with the design choices, so they’re specific enough and feel fleshed out enough that it’s… something familiar.” She explains, “That hopefully comes from a rigour and detail in the work.”
Much Ado About Nothing is on now until November 19.