Queensland Theatre Company’s Much Ado About Nothing is a lighthearted, playful and fitting choice to celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. With many speculating the significance of the text when compared with the classic tragedies or better known comedies, one may ask why present a production with “about nothing” in the title. With this text sitting in the middle of Shakespeare’s body of work, it can sometimes be disregarded, however, when produced for a contemporary audience 400 years later we can see an array of themes, power dynamics, familial conflicts and levels of maturity that translate well into the twenty-first century.
The timeless conflict and passion between Benedick (Hugh Parker) and Beatrice (Christen O’Leary), a couple who are both equally as sworn to hate each other as they are destined to fall in love, is an enjoyable dynamic that carries the comedic romance whilst Claudio (Patricky Dwyer) and Hero (Ellen Bailey) are quick to fall in love and suffer the consequences of naivity. The cheeky banter between Beatrice and Benedick drives the play’s beginnings, with a contortion of the seemingly simple marriage arrangement between Claudio and Hero providing a scandalous climax. Parker and O’Leary shared fantastic chemistry in hatred and love with sharp deliveries of insults when together and endearing vulnerability when confiding in their audience. Parker kept the audience as his confidant, charming us with a suave attitude and relatable awkwardness while wearing rose tinted glasses. O’Leary too charmed the audience with her crude humour and sharp tongue, however her passion when speaking of her envy of men’s power awakened the fire and force that O’Leary is renowned and praised for. Dwyer’s Claudio was also an enjoyable performance, with a satisfying range that maintained passion between love, disgust and melancholy across the two acts and pushed his performance beyond that of a shallow leading lover.
Director Jason Klarwein slingshots the characters and their stories into what initially seems to be a contemporary setting, however as the play progresses it seems as though the time and place could be almost anywhere at anytime. With microphones that sang 1950s and a security buggy that is recognisably contemporary, the timeline is left ambiguous, with only a living room, summery back deck looking out onto the water, and the rise and fall of the sun to show the passing of time and growth of character relationships. While the setting’s ambiguity would have successfully demonstrated the timeless nature of Shakespeare’s work on its own, Klarwein infused the text with a dozen or so modern references to push comedic themes further, almost spoon feeding the audience. With an Outcast song playing for too long – seemingly its only purpose to represent a party vibe and convince the audience that they were having fun along with the cast – and a cliched ‘single ladies’ reference towards Beatrice’s distain for marriage, the show seemed to push the text’s relevance a little too hard rendering these smaller additions tacked on and unnecessary.
Richard Roberts and Ben Hughes’ set and lighting design was decadent and captivating. Their white stage and tropical wash added intricacy and depth to a summer home. The corridor that stretched across the stage’s width and separated the interior lounge room from the back patio allowed for foreground and background action, entrances, and eavesdropping while also transitioning from inside to outside seamlessly. As each character snuck their way in or out of a scene and through countless “private” conversations, alliances were formed and inevitable scheming began with a peering through shutters and classic rom-com concealment behind household objects and unforgiving furniture. Just as the actors would transition from inside to outside as if there were only a wall between when needed, the stage itself spun in time with a transition of lights as if to turn time from morning to night, calm to storm, and one plot line to another. This element brought a spectacle and splendour to the otherwise necessary transition from one scene or day to the next.
Klarwein is creative in his congregation of characters and construction of a location that houses celebration, devastation and reconciliation through multiple story lines. The production is a celebration of love, a complex construction of conceit and an all round commemoration of Shakespeare and his conquering of the stage to this day.
– Written by Rhumer Diball May 1st 2016
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING PRESENTED BY QUEENSLAND THEATRE COMPANY
THURS 23 APR – SUN15 MAY 2015. BRSISBANE
Originally Published for My City Life.