Engulfing ardour

Vagabond Theatre brings one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies to the era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

In Much Ado About Nothing, Hero and Beatrice are cousins struggling with young love, Hero with classic Count Claudio and Beatrice with notorious playboy Benedick.
In Much Ado About Nothing, Hero and Beatrice are cousins struggling with young love, Hero with classic Count Claudio and Beatrice with notorious playboy Benedick.
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Jessica Mosher commanded attention in her role as strong Beatrice, particularly impressing audience members in a scene denouncing Claudio for his treatment of her cousin.
Jessica Mosher commanded attention in her role as strong Beatrice, particularly impressing audience members in a scene denouncing Claudio for his treatment of her cousin.
Photo: 
Photo: 

Interestingly set in the 1960s, Vagabond Theatre’s version of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a tale of strong emotions that is wonderfully expressed through a sharp cast and witty direction.

The intimate Rotunda Theatre in Theological Hall, which also features a wider balcony seating, is the ideal location for such a raw show. The cast is dedicated to the performance and they come together wonderfully with director Matt McFetridge’s clear experience, which shines through with his strong attention to detail.

The set is simple with a black stage and backdrop punctured with a couple of beautifully intricate scenery items like a landscape painting, vine-laden fences and weathered chairs. It truly sets the upper-class country setting without detracting from the performance. Minor adjustments during the show, such as tiny Christmas-lights entwined in the fence turning on, really enhance the show’s range of ambiance (in this case making it seem like a romantic night out).

The story features two pairs of lovers lost in a mischievous game. One romance, between the governor’s daughter Hero and Count Claudio is just blooming, while the more electric ex-lovers Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into uniting.

The wonderful casting ensured the actors’ strengths are displayed and emphasised in their portrayal of dynamic characters.

Hero is the definition of the innocent daughter. From the get-go her purity and shy attitude are expressed in a way that make Claudio’s instant affections seem plausible. Her outfits throughout the play are particularly lovely and very suiting of her personality and the time period. Kim Sakkal’s portrayal is enthralling to watch, as her character’s devilish ways are just hidden beneath a layer of good-daughter innocence.

Throughout the show Ryan Armstrong, playing the emotionally-susceptible Count Claudio, is very convincing in both his love-stricken and heart-broken states. Claudio and Hero’s initial confession of love for each other is a wonderful moment and both actors speak sincere words with lighting that emphasizes the enchantment between them. However, as quickly as he falls in love, Claudio doubts his feelings and becomes drenched with sadness that eventually outbursts into a raw shaking anger.

Hero’s cousin Beatrice is the female entrenched in the other romance, and is a strong character well played by the commanding Jessica Mosher, who maintains a strong wit during the entire performance. Her strongest scene is when she swears against Claudio for hurting her cousin.

But Benedick, as played by Nathaniel Fried, is the focus of the show. In the beginning he portrays the ultimate bachelor with such ease and wit that’s wonderful to watch. His depiction of a drunken fool is very funny and loose and even when he is hiding behind scenery he is still eye-catching and dynamic thanks to some smart direction. Fried then pulls off a complete reversal in Benedick’s character as he falls into an engulfing and convincing love for Beatrice.

Through some mischief, mainly initiated by the Cupid-like Prince, the free bachelor is changed into a captive of love. The transition is incredibly witty and all the actors complete it marvellously.

Later on, the boys tease Benedick for falling in love and it’s the kind of lively banter that you would see with your favourite guy-friends.

The dynamic lighting throughout the show enhances the rapid transition between emotions. A strong use of a blue-coloured filter creates many of these different tones, one such use is against the Prince’s brother, Don John, whose malicious plotting against the lovers is accented with the dimming and changing lights whenever he comes on stage.

The blocking is fluid and actors use a wide range of the stage from emotional cries downstage that you can’t ignore to mischievous plotting in the far upstage. The only minor discrepancy in this is when Hero drops to her knees at her father’s mercy and her reactions are not completely presented (at least from where I was sitting).

The smaller roles are also very notable. Dogberry, the grand constable, is very funny and a delight to watch as he saves the tormented lovers by revealing the truth.

The props are minimal, yet add a lot to the show. Something as simple as a bottle of wine is a very effective tool in setting the fun, light-hearted mood of the play.

Ultimately it’s a spirited mischief-filled evening, and like a good romance it has rapid ups and downs that leave you feeling lightheaded. The entire company of Much Ado About Nothing should be proud of the clear effort they put into the show, as the end result is a wonderfully witty adaptation of a Shakespearian classic.

Much Ado About Nothing plays tonight and tomorrow at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Rotunda Theatre in Theological Hall.

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