Shakesbeer presents Much Ado About Nothing @ Kadidjiny Park Hall
Sunday, November 22, 2020
A tiny cast of only five playing 16 roles…what could go wrong? Well, apparently nothing, but that’s solely down to the consummate talent of the performers, their sterling production team, and the passion for the Bard held deep within each of their hearts. Shakesbeer presents’ Much Ado About Nothing achieved exactly what it set out to do, which is to “bring out the fun that is so evident in this play,” and a rollicking good time indeed was had by audience and performers all.
Walking into the Kadidjiny Park Hall it was immediately obvious that the night would be relaxed and fun. Instead of rows of seats, the audience members were seated around black tablecloth-bedecked tables with scented candles – a perfect place on which to perch a bottle of wine to share between guests.
The performers themselves were present as the audience filtered in, making it feel very welcome as they chatted amiably. No fourth-wall here! The entire room was incorporated into the stage. Performers throughout the night weaved through the tables, interacting with the audience regularly, and at times (very hilariously) even using the patrons as a way to hide from other characters.
To commence the proceedings, Melissa Merchant, production manager as well as performer, introduced the concept of the show. Instead of the usual highly refined, tortuously and time-consumingly rehearsed production, the Shakesbeer presents team wanted to more closely replicate the performance conditions of Shakespeare’s time: using highly experienced and knowledgeable actors with minimal rehearsal time, no set or stage lighting, and “an audience that are more likely to be drinking beer than water.”
The five performers only had minimal but effective costume changes to indicate which of their many characters they were at any point, however, through unsurpassable skill and characterisation, one was never in doubt which character a performer was portraying at any given moment.
A very witty tactic was the use of hat and coat stands to stand in for characters such as Hero occasionally. This worked on two levels: firstly, it was hilarious due to excellent timing and little touches such as Philip Hutton, when playing Hero’s betrothed, Claudio, holding a scarf dangling from the coat stand like one would hold the hand of their lover, and secondly, it made a clever comment about how little say women had during the early modern period when it came to things like marriage – they may as well have been hat stands.
Each character played each of their parts with aplomb, portraying very different personalities with ease. A highlight of the ensemble was Sarah Courtis’ Beatrice and Andrew Kocsis’ Benedick, their word-play and chemistry made the “will they or won’t they” element of this particular sub-plot highly enjoyable.
It’s hard to single out the performers when each one of them did such a spectacular job of jumping between characters. For any hopeful actor, this was a masterclass. Grace Edwards sashayed frighteningly convincingly from dashing Duke Don Pedro to the feminine Hero, Philip Hutton played equally well as Claudio or Margaret, Andrew Kocsis made a wonderful Friar Francis, and Melissa Merchant was brilliant, whether playing old man Leonato or cheeky, trouble-causing soldier Borachio. Sarah Courtis’ Beatrice has already been mentioned as a highlight, but enough cannot be said about her ability to portray each of her four characters distinctly, seemingly effortlessly at that.
Kocsis was also in charge of script revisions so this piece could be condensed into a 90-minute version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. As well as stage managing, Tiffany Banner did a fabulous job with minimal, yet highly effective costume pieces. Along with dramaturgy by Jenny de Reuck, the skill, knowledge and passion brought to this endeavour by the entire cast and crew enabled a very refreshing approach to a performance of Shakespeare’s work. It was humorous, approachable, interactive, and entertaining for all.