The view of the river from outside the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan tents is as appealing as ever, upstaged only by the drama taking place inside.
Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan has delivered a wonderful set of performances for audiences this year, offering two new perspectives on Much Ado About Nothing and Othello.
The company traditionally strives to provide their audience with two different examples of how Shakespeare can be performed, and this year is no exception.
Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of two couples on the path to love, one beginning as a fairytale romance and veering off course, and the other beginning as an openly hostile acquaintance that becomes mutual admiration.
The first pair are Claudio and Hero, who fall happily in love. With the help of friends, they take it upon themselves to convince Benedick and Beatrice — a pair with a history of witty repertoire and derisive commentary — that they are meant for one another.
Director Pamela Haig Bartley, a University of Saskatchewan associate professor of drama, set the production in the 1940s shortly after the Second World War, which is a perfect backdrop for the play’s themes of class, honour and a battle between the sexes.
The cast has perfected their witty one-liners and nimble improv in the weeks since Much Ado About Nothing’s opening. The audience roared with laughter throughout the majority of the production. The delivery of each line was meticulously crafted, as was the actors’ body language — in fact, the hilarious antics and myriad of ridiculous facial expressions made the Shakespearean one-liners even funnier.
Robbie Towns as Benedick was equal parts charming and arrogant, pairing wonderfully with Beatrice — played by Jenna-Lee Hyde, graduate from the University of Saskatchewan College of Fine Arts — who was, as Benedick calls her, “Lady Disdain” in the best way.
The entire performance was energetic, consistently entertaining and managed to hit on both the play’s comedic and tragic notes while maintaining an upbeat at feel. Towns and Hyde kept everyoneguessing by ducking in and out of empty seats, handing unsuspecting audience members their props and even aiming questions and comments at those sitting near them.
If those aren’t enough reasons to convince you that this play is worth seeing, there are also several spectacular swing-dance sequences that left everyone’s feet tapping.
In contrast to Much Ado About Nothing, Othello was every bit as dramatic and emotionally heavy as one would expect from a Shakespearean tragedy.
In a modern interpretation of this classic, Othello is portrayed not as a black man but as a successful Cree businessman — who has eloped with a colleague’s white daughter. Tempers flare when Othello passes over his assistant Iago for a high-level promotion, instead giving it to another assistant, Cassio. Iago becomes jealous and begins a malicious campaign against them both.
It is an effective modernization of the original tale of racism, military rank and betrayal. Michael Lawrenchuk as Othello was fantastic in his anger and allowed the character’s descent into despair to show in his entire body. The incorporation of the Cree language in Lawrenchuk’s lines was a great addition.
Joshua Beaudry as the villain Iago was incredible to watch. He managed to portray a subtle shift between menacing and cunning behind other’s backs to innocent and supportive to their faces.
The emotion was tangible in each scene and every actor far exceeded the mark in their performances. It was a powerful play performed to its full potential.
Both plays were performed in-the-round, meaning that the audience surrounded the stage on all four sides. This minimized the set and made for an involved experience, as there were actors appearing from all directions, but also occasionally made it difficult to hear the actors when they spoke.
Nevertheless, both plays were exceptionally well done and are worth experiencing before the season ends. There is something magical about seeing Shakespeare performed and this year’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan has absolutely captured that magic.
Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan will be running until Aug. 23rd. For more information on tickets and showtimes, visit shakespeareonthesaskatchewan.ca
Larissa Kurz / Copy Editor