Sydney Shakespeare Festival’s ‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING’

Most of the time I am grateful to live in a country where you can still express yourself through the arts. There might still be some distance to go to call ourselves a liberal arts community, where creativity is as valued as economics, but gee, it’s nice to know that people are still independently slogging away for the right to showcase the words, movement, expression, passion and emotion of the performing and creative arts and finding avenues to do that when funding is so scarce.

The Sydney Shakespeare Festival is one of those little independent groups who take over a corner of the Glebe foreshore in Bicentennial Park each January evening to entertain their onlookers with Shakespeare’s finest because the joy of doing it far outweighs the cost.

Last night I caught their ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ debut performance and the following things struck me. Firstly, how many families were there enjoying the show. Isn’t it nice when you can head outdoors with a picnic rug, a bite to eat and the strong cool breeze coming off the water and just relax with a solid rendering of Shakespeare? It’s a very family friendly event and the kids and adults alike were thoroughly happy with their choice to be there.

Secondly, these performers are giving it everything they’ve got. It’s a tight ensemble and the pleasure of performing is obvious and that effort can be infectious. There are genuine moments of laughter from the audience from some of the antics and delivery from the tiny makeshift stage.

And finally, there are actually some good performances happening in the show. John Michael Burdon’s Benedick demonstrates that Burdon has a great ear for the language of Shakespeare and immense energy in transferring it out with ease to the audience. He is also a very good physical performer and so there is something magnetic in watching him. He is ably matched by Brendon Taylor as Don Pedro, who is one of the more natural performers and does not have to rely on ‘stage business’ to communicate character but just gets on with the art of belief and acting. Jacob Thomas as Claudio was also good and Emily Elise as Hero and Dogberry so utterly transformed herself in each role that we had to check the program to see if it was the same actress.

‘Much Ado’ is directed by co-founder of the Sydney Shakespeare Festival, Julie Baz. Baz also had to step in at the last minute to take on the role of Beatrice- a director’s nightmare and not one she would have planned and so well done to her to make the leap from the sideline to the spotlight. 

The play does lean heavily on idle actions- stage business that can sometimes seem too contrived and distracting and there are times you really want the actors to find stillness and breath. There are also times when the cadence of iambic pentameter is a challenge a little too great for some actors or scenes and the difficulty of projecting out to the audience can make the dialogue feel declamatory. But mostly, it is a lovely night out with friends and family and a much better way to spend an evening than indoors watching non-ratings TV.

So take a jumper- it gets quite cool out there- a comfy seat with friends or the kids and get out there to enjoy a fine show. It’s value for money and keeping the creative dream alive.

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