Much Ado About Nothing. By William Shakespeare. Directed by James Evans. Bell Shakespeare Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until October 19. Bookings 62752700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
Bell Shakespeare's production of Much Ado About Nothing ripples with irrepressible exuberance. James Evans' direction of Shakespeare's comedy of love concealed, love reviled and love revealed is a masterful display of Shakespeare's rhetorical wit and dramatic wile.
In the first half audiences are wooed with laughter at the battle of wits between Benedick (Duncan Ragg ) and Beatrice (Zindzi Okenyo ), only to be moved to tears in the second half as the villainous Don John's spiteful plot unfolds to thwart the true love of Claudio (Will McDonald) and Hero (Vivienne Awosoga).
Rarely have I seen a production of Much Ado About Nothing that so successfully and inventively embraces the plethora of foibles and follies of the human condition. This production is so much more than a simple battle of the sexes between the protesting Beatrice and Benedick. The nature of friendship is truly tested. Deception and gullibility become the tools of dangerous mischief. Redemption is a bitter pill to swallow. And those who do not suffer fools gladly too soon become fools themselves.
We laugh at the larrikin trickery of Don Pedro (Danny Ball), Claudio and the older Leonato (David Whitney) as they play Cupid to Benedick's confusion, while Hero and Margaret (Marissa Bennett) spin their yarn of Benedick's professed love to entrap the feisty Beatrice.
Rarely have I seen a production of Much Ado About Nothing that so successfully and inventively embraces the plethora of foibles and follies of the human condition.
Furthermore, Evans and his brilliant team of cast and creatives embody in this production the essence of Shakespeare's antithesis.
The dastardly deed of Claudio's slander and its dire consequence is hilariously contrasted with the clownish comedy and verbal malapropisms of the chief constable Dogberry (Mandy Bishop) and her bumbling Watch.
It is refreshing to see the roles of Dogberry and sidekick Verges played with such delightful comic timing by women who bring a fresh imagination to the clowning moments of the Watch's antics.
Freshness is the very earmark of this production, from Pip Runciman's elegant, airy garden setting to every detail of a production in which the company obviously delights.
Every performance is a gem, glistening with vitality. Doubling up by this effusive ensemble is a seamless slide into a new illusion.
If I appear to make much ado about this production, it is not for nothing. It is about Bell Shakespeare's ability to reveal not only the nature of love but of this production's revelation of life's irony.
Though at times a purist may baulk at certain liberties taken with the work, a contemporary audience cannot but rejoice at the production's inventiveness and clarity.
They will recognise in themselves that "true love never did run smooth", but in this company's artful comedy audiences may be assured that "all's well that ends well."