Much Ado About Nothing is a Shakespearean play I have not studied, read, or seen in full, so it was a welcome surprise to watch its intricacies unfold on stage for the first time. The seasoned theatre-goer – you know, the one with a specific tweed jacket, just for the occasion – would have a weight of experience to draw on, but not me. So, be warned, the following is a review of Canberra Repertory Society’s production of Much Ado About Nothing by a casual-at-best theatre-goer intended for the similarly inexperienced.
Now, I know as well as you do that at least “some” of classy pieces of literature you boast of having read you honestly haven’t, so let’s not assume we all know the basis of the plot. Long story short, Much Ado is a variation on the Channel 10 “hit”, The Bachelor. Benedick, Claudio, and Don Pedro and his sour bastard of a brother, Don John, are returning from the war. They decide to stay at Leonato’s digs in Messina, where he lives with his daughter Hero, niece Beatrice, and “the help” Ursula and Margaret. Claudio spills all his roses in the first act, falling incomprehensibly in love with Hero. Don Pedro decides to help while Don John – don’t forget he’s the dick brother – decides to hinder. Meanwhile, everyone else decides that the existing ‘merry war of words’ between Benedick and Beatrice should become romance by hook or by crook. Not to mention the escapades of an ‘ass’ policeman, Dogberry, and the ethically questionable plotting of Friar Francis.
Directed by Cate Clelland (assisted by Marti Ibrahim), Canberra Rep have brought Much Ado alive in the Australian 1920s. The Twenties are in style at the moment, and this production clearly channels the finery and attitude of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. But it’s quite a tasteful choice, the pomp and panache of these boom years provided challenges for the prevailing order but were paradoxically related to the ills of returned servicemen.Thus the contrast of frivolity and seriousness feels right, it feels engaging and not jarring. Within this setting the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice fits snuggly, and the Claudio-Hero tryst can be forgiven for its haste and antiquated nature. Indeed, for mine the real meat of the play is within the Benedick and Beatrice relationship, because it still feels real today. Quarrelsome but interested in one another? We’ve all seen our one, and Canberra Rep made it relatable but not cliche.
Which brings me to the casting and acting, which as far as the little bits of amateur theatre I have seen was great, moreover it was riotously funny. Riley Bell’s Dogberry was hilarious and surely injured from his own physicality and Bojana Kos (Margaret) apparently paralysed the back row with a comly play on words; both capture the spirit of those bit characters slipped in by Shakespeare to entertain the pit. But certainly it was Jim Adamik (Benedick), Lainie Hart (Beatrice), and Vivek Sharma (Claudio) who all drove the comedy forward with their balanced performances, equal parts eccentricity and earnestness. Around these key roles brilliantly quirky and funny roles were performed with aplomb (seriously, Don John (David Kavanagh) was such a dick), the entire play was genuinely hilarious.
By the end of the play and by the reaction of fellow audience members I thought I’d attended a panto’, but I realised: What greater result can there be for a well performed Shakespearean comedy than for it to be genuinely funny?
Much Ado About Nothing is on at Theatre 3 (ANU Arts School) until October 3. Tickets for under 30s are only $20 and there are some comfortably student priced drinks. Looking for something to do now term is back? Grab that jacket you wore to an op-shop formal and remind everyone how cultured you are by hitting up Canberra Rep’s Much Ado, you’ll love it.