Thursday, 24 September 2015

Much Ado about Nothing, Canberra Rep

Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" has a classic rom-com premise at its centre - a bickering man and woman keep on bickering until it's obvious that the only thing to do is for them to fall in love. But the play around it has some interesting angles - in particular, there's real darkness in the subplot as the sweet-young-things, Hero and Claudio, are torn apart by a vicious trick, with Claudio's reaction making the earlier light fluffy giggles turn nasty. What started out as light jesting suddenly turns deadly serious - these jokes hurt.

At the centre of this production are Jim Adamik and Lainie Hart as Benedick and Beatrice, the squabbers who will, inevitably, find themselves together. There's rich performances from both - Adamik has always been a delightful clown (and is again here, particularly in his broad physical manouvres round a trellis during the "overhearing" scene), but there's also a serious, gutsy actor who shows his mettle when the games are over and the jokes aren't funny any any more. Lainie Hart manages to achieve great comic effects from the most minor of movements - there's a moment when she manages to get a laugh as she breaks her stride and her collar suddenly stops bouncing - as well as immaculate vocal work tossing quips hither and yon.

In the secondary romantic roles, Vivek Sharma has a sweet dopey romanticism, is quite delighfully comic in his fooling of Claudio, is suitably despairing and cruel in his rejection, and moves into dejected sorrow as he realises what he has lost. Marni Mount's Hero is pretty but ... this is one of those "is it the part or is it the actor" things - I can't remember a really good Hero from any other production, and I get the feeling there is not much more to do than stand there and look pretty. Which she does very well.

Elsewhere, there's a mixed bag of performances. Tony Turner doesn't appear to be pushing himself very hard - even in the despair of the rejection scene, we get more "gestures towards emotion" than actual emotion. It's a pity after his strong performance in "Casanova". Riley Bell's Dogberry is probably going to split audiences - for mine, there's some great physical comedy in there (in particular one very dramatic pratfall) but it does come at the expense of sacrificing some of the great spoonerisms in the script, which kinda get buried under all the physical business. There is, however, a great comedy-team-up look between him and Liz Bradley (as Verges) - when he's next to her, with his rubbery face and her stone face, his height and her .. not-height ... it definitely provokes grins.  Fraser Findlay steals scenes effortlessly with a strong singing voice, witty gestures and a strong solid presence. David Kavanaugh gets in some high-quality brooding as Don John, Ben Russell is impishly pleasurable as Don John, Joshua Bell's Borachio and Bradley J. McDowell do great slimy-creep work as Don John's toadies.

The 1920s settting means costume design is rich and gorgeous throughout - the set design does feel a little bit static and Cynthia Jolley-Rogers lighting is a little samey (though the foggy mourning scene does induce a great lighting moment). There is also a slightly weird placement of the interval - it doesn't quite feel like the right moment in the action (maybe a scene earlier?) to be taking a break.

This is not a perfect production, but there's great work in the centre of it between Adamik and Hart, and it is certainly worth the catching.

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