Much Ado About Nothing

Published June 2, 2009

Shakespeare’s most feminist play, Much Ado About Nothing, filled with gossip, rumours and, of course, a healthy dose of mistaken identity, plays in the alfresco setting of the Open Air theatre.

With the Lords and gentlemen returned from war, excitement bubbles amongst the women, with the noted exception of the feisty, quick-witted Beatrice, who declares that she “…would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”.  Involved in a long-standing battle of words with her male counterpart, the witty and otherwise well-liked Benedick, both declare they will never fall in love or marry, especially with one another.

But romance is in the air elsewhere; when Benedick’s friend and floppy-haired romantic hero Claudio confesses his love for the sweet-natured Hero, the statuesque and wise Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon, proclaims that the two will be married within seven days. But Claudio, impatient to call Hero his own, hatches a plan with Don Pedro to pass the time, deciding to convince the proud Benedick and the unromantic Beatrice that they are in love, something which has obviously been long suspected to lie beneath the surface of their acid-coated banter.

The group’s merriment is only threatened by the Prince’s evil illegitimate brother Don John, played by the sullen Tim Steed, who begins a campaign of deception that threatens to destroy the lives of Claudio and Hero and throw the town into disarray.

Set on a minimalist Mediterranean wooden walkway filled with orange trees and the hint of nearby lemon groves, the characters hide among the props as the rumours are leaked and gossip spread.  Dressed in traditional costume, including beautiful opal fruit-coloured dresses, the play stays true to the text with director Timothy Sheader creating a classic and uncontroversial production.

Written at the end of the 16th century, our modern much-loved romantic comedy formula is instantly recognisable in Shakespeare’s writing, with the classic love/hate relationship resonating through the play.  Well ahead of Shakespeare’s time, the spirited Beatrice walks all over the Bridget Jones’s of the 21st century, with her independence and bright mind stealing the show. The chemistry between her and Benedick is glaringly obvious and actors Samantha Spiro and Sean Campion make the play their own as their entertaining sparring outshines the storybook romance of Claudio and Hero.  The women of the play similarly outshine the men, as the male characters are shown to be rash and quick to judge, while the women observe shrewdly from afar and show unwavering loyalty towards one another.

With Shakespeare’s comic word play at its best, Much Ado About Nothing is an intriguing romance, which, as the sun sets and darkness falls around the Open Air theatre, cannot help but become a touch magical in this unique setting.

CM