Contemporary spin on Bard’s witty play

By David Kavanagh | posted on August 24, 2019

Review: BELL Shakespeare’s bright and energetic take on the famous playwright’s funniest work Much Ado About Nothing clearly entertained at last week’s debut performance at the Albany Entertainment Centre.

The theatre roared in good humour when prodded, held collective silence when the headier themes pushed to stage edge and felt more like a crowd at a top notch stand-up show than that found at renditions of Shakespeare’s more tragic works.

That’s not to say Much Ado About Nothing did not offer moments of serious reflection and social commentary both surprisingly and unsurprisingly relevant to the modern context.

The twin love stories of the honourable Claudio and Hero and the endearingly love-averse Benedick and Beatrice laid bare the hypocrisies of gender politics in Messina and beyond the page.

It further tiptoed through the big topics of the value of honour, of friendship, the trappings of masculine and feminine expectations and the weight we place on truth, trust and pride.

Perth-born Associate Director James Evan, who has previously proven himself with a largely lauded production of Julius Caesar, managed all this deftly.

His contemporary spin on what many call the world’s first romantic comedy was welcomed in the form of colourful and eccentric costuming, a simple but fitting setting and clever characterisation.

The latter of these was surely bolstered by the talented cast, many of whom switched between multiple roles in a way that was not only seamless, but which added to the narrative in subtle but thought-provoking fashion.

The standout for me, though I find it hard to single anyone out, was Will McDonald’s portrayal of both the young Claudio and the naive but dastardly Borachio.

This may be in part because of the range of emotions he was allowed to explore – pure joy at Hero’s acceptance of his hand in marriage, disappointment sweeping into rage at her perceived betrayal, guilt at the consequences of his quick judgement and confusion.

Duncan Ragg and Zindzi Okenyo were also stellar choices for Benedick and Beatrice and took their quick dialogue in equally quick stride, tripping not once save for when it was intended.

Their characters’ piercing wit felt natural and human and seemed to mask deeper anxieties about the world they inhabited and their place in or outside of it.

Of course, no discussion of Much Ado About Nothing is complete without reference to the slapstick, which was done wonderfully here.

Ragg brought great energy and humour to Benedick’s near adorable discomfort at the thought of loving or being loved by his female counterpart, while Mandy Bishop’s take on the bumbling Dogberry was nothing short of outrageous (in the best way).

One moment widely appreciated lacked dialogue completely and featured a rattled Benedick placing a tiny stool on the grass, taking his time to settle down on it and pulling out, with great exaggeration, a magazine entitled TANKS.

I can’t do it justice.

You’d have to have been there.

But it was hilarious.

There were plenty of memorable scenes like this throughout the two-hour production and each oozed with creativity and wonder; the masked dance party pumping modern pop and disco lights was another highlight.

Packed with these and with excellent performances across the board, Bell Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was a hell of a crowd-pleaser and a trip I’d soon take again.