Christina Smith's whimsical, outdoor in autumn, set inspired thoughts of holidays and relaxed, warm autumn days. Creative license allows the set to move from autumn to winter then early spring, although the play itself takes place in a week. The set is well used by Cherry and the cast, especially the scenes where Benedick and Beatrice are hiding from their friends. Smith’s costumes were non identifiable to a particular time and place, although the women’s soft, flowing, mid length skirts with petticoats suggest an era not far gone.
Like all Shakespeare should be, this was very much an ensemble cast, and the extra weeks of rehearsal have paid off in the casts delivery and ease of interaction. Austin Castiglione was rightfully moody and depressing as the bastard prince (Don John), but overshadowed by Black Swan newcomer Tim Solly as Borachio. Solly was at ease on stage as the treacherous and scheming right hand man of Don John, and was a highlight in a role that is often left in the background.
WAAPA student Shubhadra Young played Hero with the correct amount of pathos, suitably feeble and naive. Her collapse during the key scene as the accused was heartfelt and you can’t help but feel sorry for the character. Michael Loney as Hero’s father Leonato was a standout performer, bringing gravitas and dignity to a powerful role. As Claudio, Hero’s ill advised lover, Stuart Halusz was at ease with the language and portrayed the range of the character (lover to angry young man to morose) with commitment.
Dogberry, who I find to be the most annoying Shakespeare character ever written, was performed splendidly by stalwart Geoff Kelso, who brought a light touch and understanding to his lengthy monologues.
Kirsty Hillhouse as Beatrice was funny and witty, but lacked the black humour that makes her character bite. As Benedick, Kenneth Ransom’s accent and intonation took some getting used to, and he was too egotistic to really like his character. Sadly, I felt the two lacked the chemistry in some scenes to make the play zing. Having said that, their interactions were still highly enjoyable and their wordy, witty exchanges provided many highlights throughout the play.
I was disappointed in the use, or lack thereof, of the extra cast members sourced from the WAAPA acting course. I felt that the dance scenes could have easily been more involved and lengthier, and they lacked visual presence and enthusiasm. This may have been in part due to an odd sound design by Ash Gibson Greig. It sounded like the first dance scene was underscored by trance music in slow motion. The two songs (ably sung by Brendan Hanson) were good, but what would have lifted the “eulogy” song would have been a multitude of performers accompanying the haunting tune.
The standout performer was Steve Turner as Don Pedro, the chief of the visiting army and mentor to Claudio. Last seen in Black Swan's The Glass Menagerie, Turner commanded attention on stage, his lines spoken with quiet dignity and depth of understanding. The scene where he turns to Beatrice and says “Marry me”, was done with such feeling and an undercurrent of loneliness, it brought tears to my eyes.
This is a wonderful play and a great production from Black Swan. Overall I came out of the theatre on a high, rejoicing in the text and delivery of a brilliant piece of work.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare
Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Playhouse Theatre
Dates: 22 August – 6 September 2009
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing www.bocsticketing.com.au | 9484 1133