‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays because unlike ‘Taming of the Shrew’ when protagonist Beatrice finds love, it is because she is feisty and is allowed to stay that way when Cupid’s arrow hits. And there’s the rub- the play’s most notorious bachelor Benedick finds himself deeply in love with Beatrice because she is quick, smart and funny. She’s sassy to the max and it gives me hope that intelligent men exist in Sydney desperately wanting that kind of woman and are straight, single and waiting for me.
So with that theatrical hope in my heart, off I trotted to Bella Vista Farm once again to see how Sport for Jove would serve it up and no surprise, they didn’t disappointment. Director Adam Cook has found two exceptional leads in Tim Walter (Benedick) and Matilda Ridgway (Beatrice) to not only show transformations in passion and intention with excellent comic timing and energy but there is sexual tension filling that space from the start. It’s like watching young people punch each other in an effort to get their attention in a naïve attempt for physical contact. Each line by Walter and Ridgway packed that punch and we felt the savage blows as the tension rose in each verbal conquest.
Of course there’s more to the story that these two characters but they are far less likeable or have less dimensions to sink your teeth into as an audience member. Claudio (Christopher Stalley), although the picture of chastity and christian virtue, abandons his fiancé Hero (Madeleine Jones) in an astounding act of public humiliation; there’s the Machiavellian bastard brother Don John (Julian Garner), jealous of his brother’s, Don Pedro (Robert Jago) status and sworn to thwart and undermine him and then he abandons his villainous minions as soon as things go pear shaped. There’s also our comic relief in Dogberry (James Lugton) who knows how to sell that ‘ass’ and that’s all I’m saying (it’s not as inappropriate as it sounds but captures the scene perfectly). It’s a play full of deceit and trickery but like a good comedy, the characters end up all the better for it. It’s interesting that a play that revolves around falsehoods should expose our characters’ authenticity. That’s clever indeed. Add to that, it’s a fun play and Sport for Jove know how to be playful and cheeky as well as truthful and tragic.
‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is exactly the kind of play I’d be taking my kids to see, not only because taking your kids to the theatre should start as soon as they can put a sentence together and walk on their own two feet but because this is a play that says you can be any kind of woman or man and you still find and deserve love without compromising who you are or what you want. You don’t have to be crafted in anyone’s image or expectation of who you should be. The scene where Don Pedro asks Beatrice to marry him, as off-hand as it seems, was the perfect accompaniment to that theme- she turns down the prince because he is not strong enough to hold her love or fulfil her needs. It was a great scene between Jago and Ridgway and a beautiful way to communicate that power and status alone do not a marriage make. Hold out. Don’t be seduced by the trappings of wealth and influence.
So you’ve got a few more days to get out to see ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Bella Vista or catch it at the Norman Lindsay Gallery or the Leura Shakespeare Festival in January. Take your family, watch some quality Shakespeare with a quality company and spend some time talking to your children about how we understand ourselves better from theatre and discussing the play’s potent messages on the car trip home and count yourself a better parent for it.