The orchard at Gem o’ the Isle is getting ready for the Cowichan Valley Shakespeare Festival. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Measure for Measure’: The Cowichan Valley Shakespeare Festival

There’s plenty of Shakespearean excitement on offer at the Gem o’ the Isle and The 39 Days of July

The Shawnigan Players are hitting the ground running this summer, presenting Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing in their Cowichan Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the gate. Theatregoers are asked to retain tickets for rain checks if the performance cancelled due to weather conditions. See www.shawniganplayers.com

Everyone involved from the production side is excited about this summer’s shows at the Gem O’ the Isle farm in Cowichan Station.

It’s the third year of the Cowichan Valley Shakespeare Festival, even though these amateur enthusiasts have been presenting summer plays for much longer .

In Much Ado About Nothing, Kimberley Phillips is making her Shawnigan Players directorial debut.

It’s a play that is sure to delight theatre goers of all ages.

As she says on the Shawnigan Players website, the audience can “watch as rivals become lovers, and lovers are undone by rivals. Much Ado About Nothing is a play about both delightful and dastardly deception. Actors are tasked to explore the fine line between tragedy and comedy, making audiences wonder if it really will all work out in the end.

“When I mentioned offhand to a fellow cast member of last year’s The Tempest that directing for the Cowichan Valley Shakespeare Festival might be fun, I didn’t expect that I would actually end up being at the helm of a 25-plus cast member comedy the very next summer. I was most certainly convinced to take the proverbial plunge by the rallying cry of my fellow Shawnigan Players. Without their ongoing support and encouragement, it just would not have happened.

​“But it did! And here we are, rehearsing a show full of delightful and dastardly deception. If someone asked me, “why Much Ado About Nothing?” I’d have to say that the Gem o’ the Isle being our venue was a big inspiration. I knew I wanted to do a comedy, and I loved the idea of having characters overhear the plotting, philandering, and pontificating of this show from behind the leaves of the Gem’s apple trees. I had thought about a few other plays, but Much Ado just felt like summer to me. I was also really drawn to the character of Beatrice. Her quick wit, independent thinking, and confidence to be unapologetically herself are things women of all ages can connect to.”

This year, the Players are sailing the good ship Much Ado down a different channel, according to Phillips.

“Our show is a little bit different than the Shakespearean endeavours of the Players’ recent past. As a history teacher and avid Downton Abbey fan, with a lot of excitement for the upcoming film, I decided that it would be exciting to set the play at the end of World War I.

“I have been delighted to discover how behind this idea the cast is, and how many of them are Downton fans. It also provided the opportunity to change the gender of some of the characters, thinking about how women began taking on traditionally male roles while the wars were going on. As soon as this decision was made and the casting was completed, the show really began to take shape.

“I’m so honoured to be working alongside veteran Shawnigan Player Alex Gallacher, as both the director of the Cowichan Valley Shakespeare Festival’s other show, Measure for Measure, and as a member of my cast!

​“For someone who has been on the stage more than behind it, and whose directing resumé has never included the Bard, this has been an amazing opportunity of learning and growth for me. I look forward to welcoming everyone to Much Ado About Nothing this August.”

According to the British Library, Measure for Measure is a darker comedy. One of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” it sits uneasily between comedy and tragedy.

A variety of problems are presented with the playwright’s favourite themes: courtship gone wrong, bawdy humour, and the illicit use of power.

Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, takes a little time off to check what’s going on in his domain. He’s supposed to be away, but instead pretends to be a friar so he can look into law enforcement. There are plenty of surprises, disguises, and comedy and tragedy in all guises, so be ready.

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

Does Shakespeare agree with him? You decide.

Dates for Much Ado About Nothing are Aug. 7, 9, 13, 15, 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 11 at 2 p.m.

Dates for Measure for Measure are Aug. 6, 8, 10, 14, 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 18 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $20 in advance from https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/cowichan-valley-shakespeare-festival-2019-tickets-62387096485 or $25 at the gate at the Gem o’ the Isle at 2465 Koksilah Rd. in Cowichan Station (not far from the low bridge). Please pay attention when booking through eventbrite because the name of the play is not mentioned at all. The chosen date determines what play you will see.

There’s a special festival pass offer that will allow you to see the other play for half price. These passes are $30 for one person or $60 for a family: up to five people maximum, two adults and children.)

It’s really fun watching the live plays outdoors in the orchard at the Gem. There are seats but if you want to bring a blanket, that’s okay, too. These presentations are extremely popular with all ages as even quite small children love live theatre. Take the whole family.

***

As has become usual in the past few years, The Shawnigan Players are presenting free warm-up productions of their plays during the last weekend of The 39 Days of July.

This year, that means on Saturday, Aug. 3, you can see part of Much Ado About Nothing from 4-6 p.m. and part of Measure for Measure from 6-8 p.m. on the Buckerfield’s Stage at Charles Hoey Park. Arrive early if you want a seat reasonably close to the stage. These shows are popular.

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