By Regan Baker
Though a lover of the arts, I would not say that I am traditionally a lover of Shakespeare. While I understand the appeal of his works, Shakespeare’s unique way with words never resonated with me as a teenager and I always somewhat dreaded the mention of his name through English and drama classes at High School. But alas, a reviewer must refrain from judging a book by its cover and keep an open mind about all styles of theatre, and last night that landed me once again at the beautiful Home of the Arts Theatre on the Gold Coast for Bell Shakepeare’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. So strap yourselves in, because for the first time ever I am going to write a review on Shakespeare without the aide of Sparknotes (Sorry Mr. Biedermann).
A story of love and trickery, Much Ado About Nothing is known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies as it manages to combine light-hearted and warmly funny scenes with deep themes of love and honour, while continuously maintaining its upbeat and engaging momentum. I had never seen, nor read Much Ado About Nothing before entering the theatre last night, and the only glimpse of the story I was aware of came from a 2-minute briefing from my partner. I wanted to see how well the performance translated for the everyman and whether one could follow the story being presented on stage without any prior knowledge of the script. To the artistic Director, Peter Evans, and the Director, James Evans, I say - bravo. Your direction and casting choices were superb, and the themes, messages and story came across in a beautifully funny and engaging way. The stage was simple; a brightly coloured backdrop with some chairs, plants and few other staging elements sitting in front that created the feeling of a wealthy courtyard or grand hall, yet the space always felt filled. The tight space allowed Movement and Fight Director, Nigel Poulton, to add some brilliant humour into the way the characters utilised their space, peaked by Benedick’s attempted sneaking around while trying to listen into Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato’s discussion of Beatrice’s love for him.
Of course, however, the most important accolades must go to the brilliant cast that brought this story to life. While only a small cast, it was a brilliant cast, and I wish I had the time and space to review every single performance, but I simply cannot, outside of saying that you were all amazing. The intricate relationships that were weaved among characters were incredibly natural and no line nor emotion felt forced. Duncan Ragg (as Benedick) is a born performer and held attention and humour in every scene. While his lines were naturally comedic in their nature, Ragg’s delivery amplified their humour trifold and had the audience chuckling at every twist and turn of phrase. His simple elements of audience interaction were performed with such finesse that even a simple gesture of his eyebrows had the crowd giggling away. Will McDonald (as Claudio / Borachio) is an outstandingly bright and passionate performer and easily switched between giddy-humour and burning rage with ease. It takes a truly talented performer to make an audience member fear for their safety as he delivered the shaming of Hero with such fiery passion that his face turned tomato-red and it honestly looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel. And Finally, Zindzi Okenyo (as Beatrice) was also a delight to watch on stage. Her portrayal of Beatrice had layer upon layer of depth that was slowly unpacked throughout the performance. She was witty, powerful and relatable and did an excellent job of bringing the character into the 21st century.
The combination of show elements combined to create an overall beautiful performance that was easy to follow and even easier to enjoy. The simple staging allowed the audience to focus on the performance of the cast and focus intently on their every word. The lighting design by Niklas Pajanti was also simple but served its purpose well and guided the audience through the different Acts and the costuming by Hannah Lobelson suited the 21st Century take on the classic story.
It is with pleasure therefore, that I can comfortably say whether you are a lover of Shakespeare or not, this iteration of Much Ado About Nothing was a marvellous telling of the classic story and one that you absolutely must see!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.