Tuesday, 29 December 1998

Much Ado About Nothing, ASC, Dec 29,1998

 By William Shakespeare
Australian Shakespeare Company
 Botanical Gardens, Gate F from December 29, 1998 until March 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Much of Shakespeare's original work was performed in inn yards or open-air theatres. His bawdy comic glee flourished in the bold style that is still required by outdoor theatre. Glenn Elston's Much Ado About Nothing, in the lushness of the Botanical Gardens, cocks a snoot at more staid traditions of Shakespeare.

Much Ado is almost a rock concert. Everybody plays electric guitar and belts out a mean rock tune with the support of an exceptional off-stage musician, Randy Bulpin. It's more entertaining and truer to Shakespeare than Berlioz's opera, Beatrice and Benedick.

After an intro by clown security guards/policemen, Dogberry and Verges (Peter Hosking and Evelyn Krape), the opening image is a babe band: four guitar-weilding, leather and lace-clad women singing a hot rock number. The atmosphere is literally electric.

The songs keep on coming with music written by Paul Norton and lyrics by Shakespeare with help from Elston. The popular style, comic daring and improvisational pizazz of this fine ensemble complement Shakepeare's wit and poetry.

Shakespeare's Much Ado is a romance with the acid wit of Taming of the Shrew. When Sicilian soldiers return from battle, Governor, Leonato, (Phil Sumner), his daughter, Hero (Rachael Tidd) and sharp-tongued niece, Beatrice, (Nicole Nabout) greet commander Don Pedro (Michael Fry) and his villainous brother, Don John (Brendan O'Connor) 

Beatrice renews her seductive squabbles with confirmed bachelor, Benedict (Richard Piper) and Hero is reunited with her betrothed, Claudio (David Davies).

In Elston's production, the men are more like a rock band returning from a world tour with a big contract and huge egos. The girl band does its gigs nearer home. No wonder Beatrice is snipey.

Richard Piper is a commanding and adorable Benedick, marrying impeccably the poetic, comic, improvisational and dramatic. Davies lends Claudio a richness of voice and character and O'Connor is a perfect smiling villain. Nabout is suitably feisty and versatile as Beatrice but seems miscast against Piper.

The first hour is slick and fast but, before interval, the pace slackens. The show has an irregular rhythm but this does not diminish its entertainment value. Some text is lost in the bigger musical numbers but body mikes keep dialogue clear and audible..

This is a bold, cheeky and courageous production that should pull in the crowds.

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