Left – Marissa Bennet, David Whitney, Mandy Bishop. Cover – Duncan Ragg, Zindzi Okenyo. Photos – Clare Hawley
Bell Shakespeare has mastered the art of presenting Shakespeare in a manner that is accessible to the modern-day audience, while still endearing those who love the tradition. The company’s latest delectable morsel of the bard is a much-loved comedy Much Ado About Nothing in Melbourne’s Fairfax Theatre.
Much Ado About Nothing teeters between comedy and tragedy with much buffoonery in between. The comic relief is indeed that.
Director James Evans commands an adept ensemble of actors who perform with a centuries-old script in a modern setting. Designer Pip Runciman’s set is indeed modern and yet seems to intrude in a disparate manner on the actors’ work. Something is amiss in the arrangement and at times it seems to detract from rather than enhance the ensemble’s performance. Likewise, the costumes are a strange assortment. Nevertheless, the overall effect is to modernise Shakespeare and this Bell Shakespeare does with aplomb.
Much Ado About Nothing is captivating, as many of Shakespeare’s comedies, with its assortment of lovers, villains, and fools and Bell Shakespeare make the most of the plot.
David Whitney commands the stage from the very beginning with his Leonato. Governor Leonato is at the centre of the plot from beginning to end and this character is in very capable hands with Whitney. Zindzi Okenyo is a suitably strident Beatrice, a sharp-witted foil for Duncan Ragg as Benedick. Ragg’s performance as Benedick is one of the highlights of the production as he engages the audience in his self-deprecating soul searching. The challenge of gender roles is central to this 421-year-old play and Okenyo as Beatrice and Ragg as Benedick aptly portray the meeting of two minds.
Will McDonald and Vivienne Awosoga are enchanting as the young lovers at the centre of the trickery, well supported by fellow actors in interchanging roles. A stand-out performance is Mandy Bishop’s role as the comic relief Dogberry. Her entrance is at first startling and then hilarious and her performance is always engrossing.
Bell Shakespeare presents
Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
Director James Evans
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne | St Kilda Road, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 17 – 27 July 2019
Tickets: $75 – $95