Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare. Melbourne Shakespeare Company. St Kilda Botanical Gardens. December 2 – 17, 2017

A night (or day) spent watching theatre surrounded by idyllic gardens is never a time wasted. Surrounded by the rose garden at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, Melbourne Shakespeare Company set up their stage for their recent offering, Much Ado About Nothing.

The re-structuring of this tragedy was filled to the brim with elements and simple aspects of Commedia dell’arte, slapstick, Lecoq physicality and Gaulier clowning techniques. Not to mention the addition of modern music sprinkled throughout the show, including a Pitch Perfect style sing-along to get the audience geared up for the performance.

Now, didn’t I just say that Much Ado About Nothing was one of Shakespeare’s tragedies? True, to an extent… but, director Jennifer Sarah Dean knew the right ways to take the very subtle humor in the script and bring it to the forefront; thusly creating a version unlike anything I had ever seen before. The audacious comedy was perfectly teamed with the truly tragic moments of the wedding and Beatrice’s wish from Benedick scenes, which were performed with great juxtaposition to the rest of the play.

The text had been dissected quite dramatically, but not to any disservice to the play itself. The addition of the live band and actors complementing the staging with songs (and some very cheesy versions of) from Beyonce, Billy Idol, Hanson, Mariah Carey - to name a small number, accented this version of the tale beautifully. As someone who knows the play quite well, these cuts and additions did not detract in any way from the original text, but completely enhanced the true subtle nature of the wit and intellect of Shakespeare and his characters.

Annabelle Tudor as Beatrice was a perfect blend of bold, brash, sass, wit and subtlety. The ease with which she commanded the character was a joy to behold. Tudor sat into the role as if she had been performing it all her life; it seemed to be an extension of her own self.

I loved the relationship between Leonarto (Syd Brisbane) and Antonia (Lelda Kapsis). The raunchiness of their ‘sugar daddy’ style love, bought a great contrast to the biting sting of Beatrice and Benedick and cutesy puppy-dog love of Hero and Claudio.

Other honourable mentions were Nicola Bowman as Margaret and Bridget Sweeney as [Girl] George. Bowman’s comic interactions with the audience were well timed and carried with hilarious conviction, whereas Sweeney’s adorable awkwardness in her physicality allowed her to create and enrich a small role and make it completely unique to her.

Jonathon Lawrence was perfectly cast as Borrachio, creating a sleazy, coarse character as a perfect off-sider for Don Joan (Ella Lawry).

Jonathan Peck and May Jasper as Dogberry and Verges were impeccable as the traditional comedic fodder, using vocal and physical slapstick clowning to augment the puerile nature of their position in the text.

I have to mention the brilliance of the properties design; the flat cardstock enabled the actors to easily manipulate the flat props in ways that you couldn’t necessarily do with a true item.

Costumes were effective; carefully put together, but all white! Troubling for a show in the open air and in a garden, but they worked well for the purposes of this particular show. They beautifully touched upon aspects of the classic film version from 1993.

A truly beautiful night to enjoy Shakespeare in the park. This was my first Melbourne Shakespeare Company production, but it certainly will not be my last!

Penelope Thomas

Photography by: Burke Photography'

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