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Review: Much Ado About Nothing at the Sydney Opera House

By Rosie Niven

Claudio and Hero are deeply in love. Beatrice and Benedick would rather fire insults at each other in a battle of wit than even consider such love.

It’s a long play, but if you’ve got to summarise Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the two sentences above capture pretty much all of it. A much loved rom-com from the bard, the most well-known couple is the fiery Beatrice and Benedick, and Director James Evans has honoured their popularity by making them the feature of this work. We watch as other characters plot to trick the two into falling in love with each other, and laugh at the farcical manner in which the characters play in this world. Outside of that however, the plot feels a little lost.

Evans has taken a classic and propelled it into the 21st-Century, equipped with modern music, and even more modern politics. Instead of Beatrice losing her power and giving in to Benedick’s passions, she meets him on an even ground, choosing to be with him in equal partnership rather than being taken as a wife. Zindzi Okenyo slips effortlessly into the role of Beatrice, and is an uncompromisingly powerful presence on stage. Against her as the bumbling Benedick is Duncan Ragg, a comic delight who plays with the audience and whose charm has us on his side in the first five minutes. Another delight to watch is the hilarious Mandy Bishop, whose portrayal of the cock-sure Head of Security has the audience constantly in stitches.

Modern too is the choreography and acapella song that Evans has inserted into the work - a bold choice that aimed to bring Shakespeare lovers something fresh and exciting. If these elements had been more frequently littered throughout the work, this would have been a great way to move the work into a new Century. However, we’re given a dance scene only once, only to shift back to a more traditional performance style, and then we end with a song that feels so out of place that it feels like a completely different show. 

The set is a clean and simple design, one that works well for the touring production. It serves a great purpose, with secret pockets and versatile curtains that allow for hilarious moments when characters spy on one another. Teamed with holiday-esque pastel costumes, the warm colour palette adds to the lighthearted nature of the show. 

Bell Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was an ambitious choice, one that with clearer direction could have been incredibly successful. Unfortunately, much of the story felt unclear and modern twists felt forced and incredibly jarring. I think this show will divide audiences - younger audiences may love it and find the fun in Evans’ quirky humour, but older audiences and fans of Shakespeare will feel that the traditional script has been a little too butchered. With a cast full of talented actors, Much Ado About Nothing was close to hitting the mark, and I look forward to what they come up with next, but this time around, they really missed the mark.

Image Credit: Clare Hawley

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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