It’s the original romcom where the beautiful and sweet Hero falls in love with the equally sweet and valiant Claudio only for their matrimony to be dashed by jealousy and greed. But love triumphs in the end and everyone gets what they deserve.
In this new adaptation by director Bokkie Robertson of Shakespeare’s classic dual love story between sweet Hero (Izabella Louk) and Claudio (Russell Cronin) and sharp Beatrice (Dominique Purdue) and Benedick (Levi Kenway), the women were granted more agency and the audience finally, satisfactorily, witnessed justice for much-wronged Hero. With some characters amalgamated and scenes cut for clarity and conciseness, much of the plotting remained the same with Leonato (Dany Akbar) and his daughter Hero and niece Beatrice welcoming Captain Pedro (Nick Wright) and his fleet home after another perilous journey. Claudio quickly falls for Hero and employs Pedro to woo her for him, the first instance of romance in disguise, and, once that marriage is confirmed, Pedro turns his attention to uniting warring wits Beatrice and Benedick with some carefully overheard gossip, the second instance of romance by subterfuge. But Pedro’s jealous and villainous brother John (Brendan Toole) puts an end to the happy courting by devising a plan with Borachio (Alex Kendall Robson) and Margaret (Camila Ponte Alvarez) to ignite Claudio’s jealousy and question Hero’s virtue to call off the wedding. Hero, wronged by her lover and her father, collapses at the wedding, presumed dead, but when she comes to, she also concocts a plan to show Claudio just what he lost. The most significant change in Robertson’s adaptation was Hero’s opportunity to confront her father for doubting her virtue so quickly and her decision to dump Claudio rather than marry him. It was a refreshing, and long-overdue, rewrite to Shakespeare’s original lopsided ending.
Set and costume designer Blake Hedley placed the action in a raucous 16th century tavern complete with a ginger beer bar, sea shanty singing servers, live band (Margot Roberts and Ben Bauchet), and large ropes draped along the walls in reference to Messina’s status as a harbour city. With all the singing, dancing, and hiding amongst the set and audience, the atmosphere of the production was joyous and playful. In particular, the actors managed the audience interaction very well with improvisation which drew the audience deeper into their already highly emotionally engaging performances. The emotional peaks and troughs were managed by Akbar’s lighting design which subtly sculpted the large warehouse space with warm and cool light and a touch of pink hue for the romantic scenes.
Across the ensemble the casting was strong with each character well-established and authentically rendered. Louk’s Hero was appropriately sweet and reserved until she came into her real power in the second half and her cousin Beatrice was bitingly portrayed by Purdue without putting the audience off-side. The three male figures of Pedro, Benedick, and Claudio were especially well played by Wright, Kenway, and Cronin with a believable friendly camaraderie and banter that demonstrated their great love and admiration for each other. Kenway’s Benedick was an audience favourite for his suave charisma and excellently timed teasing while Cronin’s Claudio travelled a heartbreaking arc from charming sweetheart to utter fool. Plus the dynamics between the lovers were exceptionally sappy and giggly like all good new couples should be.
This new take on Much Ado About Nothing from Robertson’s adaptation to her direction to the cast’s performances put real heart into an already enjoyable story to turn it into something that felt fresh and alive again.
Much Ado About Nothing is running at Flow Studios from April 28th to May 7th
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