Left – Vivienne Awosoga and Zindzi Okenyo. Cover – Duncan Ragg and Zindzi Okenyo. Photos – Clare Hawley
There’s much ado about many things in Bell Shakespeare's current season of Much Ado About Nothing.
A comedy to be sure, and the antic cow is milked for all it’s worth, but Much Ado About Nothing is, among other things, about the rape of reputation.
Among all the buffoonery and banter there is a sinister misogynist slander, an appalling practice that is prevalent today, borne by the toxic bro culture that continues to find purchase in our society.
To help slide this bitter pill down the theatregoer’s throat and make it more palatable, Shakespeare constructs a comedy of high wit and broad farce and director James Evans has an assembled a canny cast that delivers on all fronts.
The two leads, Beatrice and Benedick, like Kate and Petruchio, Berowne and Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost, are each witty, egotistical, and fiercely independent. You just know their wedlock, should it eventuate, will be a battle for spousal supremacy. Zindzi Okenyo’s Beatrice burns with intellect, wit and wisdom, so much so that her emotional edict, “Kill Claudio!” is genuinely shocking. Duncan Ragg is a real dag of a Benedick, enthusiastic breaker of the fourth wall, a fellow who enjoys the company of other men but unafraid of calling out inappropriate behaviour.
David Whitney gives measured, assured gravitas to Leonato, whose usual sunny and stable fatherly fidelity falters under prehistoric patriarchy. The seven other members of the company all play dual roles. Mandy Bishop does double duty as Dogberry, the malapropistic constable in faux electric glide in blue blithe and dexterous on a scooter, as well as Balthasar, who leads in the singing from Hey Nonny Nonny to Sonnet 116. Paul Reichstein as the bastard, Don John, revels in his mischief making and doubles as 2nd watchman. Suzanne Pereira as Antonio and the Friar is the calm before the storm in both guises. Will McDonald as the callow Claudio and Borachio, player in the despicable deceit and slander against Hero, is a nifty piece of inventive, interesting and intuitive doubling. Marissa Bennett plays a sultry Margaret and also Verges, Dogberry’s dogsbody, heavily disguised but brimming with comic physicality. Danny Ball as Don Pedro is suitably suave, switching to totally naf as 1st watchman. And Vivienne Awosoga is a luminous Hero, doubling counter pointedly as Conrade, one of the conspirators in Hero’s defamation.
Designed by Pip Runciman design is simple in its elegance with verdant curtains, potted plants, garden furniture and the occasional string of party lights. It’s a practical set in that offers the actors business as well as creating an ambience.
There’s much to view in this Much Ado, a joyous romp given fulsome throttle.
Bell Shakespeare presents
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
by William Shakespeare
Director James Evans
Venue: Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Dates: 22 October – 24 November 2019