Much Ado about Making Merry:
An On Centre Stage Review of Much Ado about Nothing.
By Douglas Kennedy.
Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare.
Directed by Jason Klarwein.
Playhouse Theatre (Queensland Performing Arts Centre).
Queensland Theatre Company.
Season continues until May 15.
The Queensland Theatre Company’s salute to Shakespeare on his 400th birthday is a rollicking, and joyous, contemporary interpretation of Much Ado about Nothing.
Indeed, this production could easily be about ‘noting’ – a word the Elizabethans shared with nothing – which alludes to gossip, rumor and mistaken overhearing.
All features of Much Ado, along with deception, mistaken identity and disguises ultimately unmasked, which shake the dignity of characters and leaves some humiliated.
This is a story which could easily be lifted from the scurrilous pages of a celebrity magazine and director Jason Klarwein hasn’t pulled his punches when pitching it into the 21st century.
The result is one of the funniest outings of a Shakespearean comedy seen on the Brisbane stage in years.
This is The Bard for those who say they don’t much like his work – despite his enormous status – and anyway find it all too confusing.
The only confusion in this version is that felt by the characters as they stumble through slick verbal acrobatics, combat emotional and physical farce, and deal with the kind of romantic trivial pursuit that is the stable diet of the populist, mainstream, modern media.
Klarwein and his creative team – including designer Richard Roberts and lighting designer Ben Hughes – have lifted Much Ado out of its island home, Sicily, and put it in a tropical paradise reminiscent of the Whitsundays.
This is where the royal, naval and bureaucratic elite retreat for the betrothal of Claudio (Patrick Dwyer) and Hero (Ellen Bailey) under the gaze of the royal patronage of Don Pedro (Tama Matheson) and Hero’s father, Leonato (Bryan Probets).
Other interested parties include the cynical Beatrice (Christen O’Leary) and Benedick (Hugh Parker) – changeling the lovers in denial Kate and Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew – and various hangers on including Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John (Hayden Jones).
Generally villainous bastard brothers want to take over the kingdom – or at least knock off the golden boy – but our man is content to stuff up everyone’s love life with the help of henchman Borachio (Mark Conaghan).
What follows – borrowing other Shakespearean comedy titles – is a comedy of errors and a scenario which suggests that not all is well or indeed will end well.
However, the dastardly duo haven’t taken into account Much Ado’s funniest double act – the night security chief Dogberry (Liz Buchanan) and her bumbling sidekick Verges (Megan Shorey) – who in the second act give the play among its most entertaining scenes.
The verbal gymnastics come from one of Shakespeare’s best comic cuts – Dogberry – along with the Malapropisms (the mix up of words to make nonsense out of sentences often for comic effect) handed down to us by Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals (1775).
Last – but not least – there’s the musical contribution from composer Gordon Hamilton whose work is given foot-tapping life by Buchanan, Shorey and Kathryn McIntyre (who also plays the servant Margaret).
There’s 11 actors in all – playing 13 roles – in what can only be described as an ensemble to die for or at least cry with laughter for.
This production seemed to leave the audience in that magical place, where all cares are left behind and, at curtain, we happily stood to savor the moment and, for once, forgot the cold light of a sometimes cruel world.
That’s what a great night at the theatre does for the people.