Ever since it's first performance in 1599(ish), Much Ado About Nothing has been one of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays. Over the years it has been the source or inspiration for a number of operas, and more recently has been adapted for film, television and music theatre. Like Romeo and Juliet, written a few years earlier, the first half is played for laughs, but it takes a much darker turn after interval. And like Juliet, the young female character must seem to be ‘dead’ in order to be reunited with her lover – but whereas in Romeo and Juliet the plan famously falls at the last hurdle, in Much Ado the lovers get their happy ending. While the play is ostensibly a tale of mistaken identities that (temporarily) separate two young lovers (Claudio and Hero), it is the love-jaded characters of Beatrice and Benedick and their “merry war” that steal the show.
This production now playing in Melbourne is performed in the Pop-up Globe – an exact replica of Shakepeare’s original Globe Theatre based on the research of Sydney University’s Professor Tim Fitzpatrick. There is a danger I suppose in presenting Shakespearean works in a replica Elizabethan building, that audiences might presume the works have a stuffy whiff of historical re-enactment about them. Nothing could be further from the truth. This production is as lively and as fresh as you could possibly hope for.
For those interested in Shakespeare, the opportunity to see the plays performed in something approximating their original setting will be of enormous interest, but even those with no particular background in Shakespeare will find this production extremely accessible. The ingenious use of the space, and proximity of the audience to the actors allow for much playful interaction (not to mention the occasional spray of fake vomit or urine), highlighting precisely why for most of the past 400 years, Shakespeare has been regarded as popular entertainment – only in the twentieth century did the work of the Bard become synonymous with the academic, highbrow stuff of capital ‘A’ aaahhht.
Directed by Miriama McDowell, and with an international cast, drawn largely from the UK, US, New Zealand and a token Australian (Mark Dickinson as Don Pedro), this production has a decidedly laconic humour reflecting it's Kiwi origins, which neatly melds with the plays original Mediterranean setting.
Kieran Mortell is superb as the dim but zealous constable Dogberry, doubling as a sort of guide for the audience, albeit with much malapropism and slapstick humour. Theo David (Claudio) and Victoria Abbott (Hero) are suitably smitten as the young lovers, whose nuptials are thrown into turmoil by the scheming bastard Don John (Regan Taylor).
But it is Semu Filipo as Benedick and Jacque Drew as Beatrice who lend the show it's real heart. The two smart-mouthed one-time lovers do a good job of denying their true feelings for each other, until a cleverly executed trap (laid by their friends), persuades them both to revise their thinking – the famous 'orchard' scene proving a highlight of the show. Yes we might sigh at the reconciliation of the young lovers – but when Benedick and Beatrice finally get together, we stamp and cheer.
This is a terrific production of one of Shakespeare’s best known works. Get along quick.
Pop-up Globe Queen’s Company presents
Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Miriama McDowell
Venue: Pop-up Globe | Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Kings Domain, Linlithgow Ave, Melbourne VIC
Dates: until 11 November 2017 (check the website for details)
Tickets: $304.67 – $20.33