Review: Much Ado – Jodie B. Sloan

Brisbane meets the Bard, as the River City's legendary Zoo venue plays host to an immersive take on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, set to a fantastic original score.

Performed by an exciting group of emerging singers, comedians, and musicians, Much Ado is at once both a wonderful twist on a classic medium, and a night of good old fashioned theatre of which Shakespeare himself would no doubt approve. The action of 17th century Messina is transported to 21st century Brisbane, and centres around a home town show played in the heart of Fortitude Valley. Star crossed lovers meet, evil schemes are hatched, and hearts are broken and unbroken, all in 90 minutes.

Comparisons to Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet feel a little inevitable, as the contemporary and the classic collide, with Shakespearean language flowing alongside modern costumes and settings. But it’s the music that really sets this apart, with a stunning series of original songs from Michael Whittred and Ella Fence punctuating the action. A particularly powerful musical moment featuring Beatrice, Hero, and Margaret lamenting their roles as pawns in the men’s machinations rang particularly true, in a era when ol’ Shakey’s ideas about what would outrage and motivate heroes and villains seems outdated and sexist. These are talented kids, make no mistake, and there’s some strong, beautiful voices to be found here.

On the move, as much as on stage, the excellent performances continued, as the cast took us from the pool tables, to the bar, to outside the ladies, erring a little more on the side of promenade staging, as opposed to the advertised immersive theatre. Proud Aussie accents wrap themselves around Stuart era text, with the charged back-and-forths of Beatrice and Benedick a highlight of the night. Much Ado really hits its stride as the drama kicks in towards the finale, with some wonderfully moving scenes, as well as fantastic comedy relief from the the Messina Watch/Zoo security.

A unfortunate combination of the audience lingering behind after the action had moved on, the actors not quite projecting enough, and the (absolutely necessary) cooling fans of the Zoo making no end of noise, did mean that some early scenes didn’t seem to land as well they could have. When you’re dealing with Shakespeare, which can sometimes seem like a foreign language, there are certain nuances and double entrendre that really need to be caught by the audience, and while this certainly improved as the night went on, a little more active encouragement to follow and engage would certainly benefit future performances.

Much Ado is an exciting addition to the Anywhere Festival lineup. Like many emerging works coming through the festival, it could use a few tweaks, but with such great talent on display, its a worthy retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies.

Jodie B. Sloan (website)

Dates: 16th-17th May
Where: The Zoo, Ann Street, Fortitude Valley.
Tickets/More infohere
Note: seating is limited to expect to be on your feet for the full 90 minute running time.

Reviewer attended the May 15th performance.