Bell Shakespeare Company has been through some ups and downs lately, with some shows not being received as well as others in recent seasons. However, their production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Heath Ledger Theatre shows exactly why they are the leading company in Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
While visiting Leonato (David Whitney) after returning from battle, Claudio (Will McDonald) quickly falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Vivienne Awosoga). After some help from Don Pedro (Danny Ball), the two are to be married in a week. Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato take this time to trick their friend Benedick (Duncan Ragg) and Leonato’s niece Beatrice (Zindzi Okenyo) into falling in love. Classic Shakespearean shenanigans ensue.
Following the story of these two young couples, Much Ado whips from comedy to tragedy within a scene and then back again just as fast. This pace would be a challenge for any director, but James Evans has done wonderful work managing it. The audience for the opening night even got to see him tread the boards as he stepped into the show after cast member Suzanne Pereira fell ill hours before opening.
What made this performance so enjoyable to watch was the attention to detail. The set felt like a family holiday somewhere tropical, with tall thin arches and palm fronds, and everything that followed matched. There was so much detail in the costumes that there could be an entire piece dedicated to that alone. From Claudio’s matching peach tie and pocket square, to “THE WATCH” emblazoned on the backs of the watchmen’s security vests, every little finishing touch was taken care of to the minutest aspect.
This extended to the cast as well, with the whole ensemble having such a clear understanding of the text and its message that they lead the audience through the story. This is not just a comedy, it has become a statement about the treatment of women by the men who supposedly love them.
Will McDonald brings a fearless physicality to his comedy as Claudio, but an earnestness to his heartbreak and pining. Duncan Ragg makes Benedick so endearing and likeable when he could quite easily be brash and obnoxious, and playing Beatrice with such nuance and understanding, Zindzi Okenyo is so charming, fierce and clever it’s no wonder Benedick falls in love with her.
There is so much more that could be said about this show, but it all comes down to this: if you’re looking to leave something behind and be entertained by a production from beginning to end, don’t miss out on Much Ado About Nothing.