Traversing the pitfalls of love, deceit and pride
By Rebecca Waese
Shakespeare was celebrated joyfully last night in a Sevenfold Theatre Company production of Much Ado About Nothing in an inner-city backyard in Kingsville, Melbourne. First-time director Mitchell Wills led his youthful cast, hailing from Federation University, in an Australian-inspired Much Ado About Nothing that included well-crafted references to Melbourne suburbs and the Australian Open Tennis. It was a happy, accessible production with some moments of deep feeling and bawdy humour. For Shakespeare fans and, perhaps, VCE English students who are studying this play, this production of Much Ado offers an engaging way to experience the comedic adventures and misadventures of two couples, Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick, who traverse the pitfalls of love, deceit, pride, and Don John’s cunning plots against Hero’s honour.
With some cuts to the original Shakespeare to condense the play to two hours, Wills includes modern references to make the story resonant with his audience, with messages arriving by iPhone and Don John vaping on top of the doghouse. There were many enjoyable interactions with the audience where audience members were winked at, called a drunkard or asked to record the notes from the trial led by a very funny and capable Watch duo, played by Fae O’Toole and Tess Walsh.
Other highlights include the strong performance of Benedick, played by Jesse Calvert, in his transformation from sharp-tongued bachelor to the love-struck, poetry-writing wooer of Beatrice, played by Petea Stark. Benedick’s spying behind the laundry and Beatrice’s squeezing through the doggie door contributed enjoyable moments of physical comedy and a clever use of the backyard and surrounding space.
There were a few questionable interpretive choices involving the sheer likability of Claudio, (Tom Costigan) who might benefit from emphasizing the darker aspects of his fickle nature, and interest in appearances and in Hero’s inheritance as suggested in the subtext of the play. The level of campiness of Leonato, played by Joshua Strachan, was a little out of place at times and I believe Leonato’s strongest moments were in his more dramatic and grounded rejection of Hero. Perhaps Don John, the evil plotting villain, ought to remain estranged in the final dance and not mingle in the celebration with the revellers?
While rocking up to someone’s backyard for the evening involves some level of trepidation, the audience was given a warm welcome from Leonato, and invited to an intimate setting with paper lanterns, strings of lights and laundry hung artfully in hues of red, pink and blue. Costumes were coordinated and appealing and music added a convivial feeling to the relaxed night. While the level of professional experience of the ensemble is new and the company is in its debut season in the Melbourne theatre scene, there is certainly a place for this pleasurable outdoor Shakespearean production and its promising ensemble.
Playing until the 26th January. Tickets available here