Review of Much Ado by Elise Lawrence

Shakespeare Plugged In transform the world’s first romantic comedy into a musical tour de force at Brisbane’s legendary live music venue, The Zoo.

Shakespeare’s lyrical prose lends itself to musical interpretation, and Shakespeare Plugged In have taken it a step further, turning the world’s first romantic comedy into an immersive rock experience.

The performance was staged across the entirety of iconic Brisbane venue The Zoo, using the pool tables, couches, and stairwell in addition to the stage. This did put the actors out of view at times, but the audience could easily adjust, or move to see what was happening. This close proximity also allowed the actors to engage with the audience, weaving through the crowd, dancing with audience members, and blending in at different times.

The key point of difference, and true strength, of this performance is not its imaginative staging or excellent acting, but the performance of original tracks from Michael Whittred, who also did an exceptional job in the role of Claudio, and Ella Fence, who added her soul-trembling vocals as Ursula. Some lyrics were clearly adapted from the text and some were entirely modern – other modern gags, including an Uber Eats delivery, were also incorporated.

The characters of villainous Don John and Hero’s mischievous lady-in-waiting Margaret appear to have been conflated into a single role, played with excellent madness by Jennifer Anne Laycock. The role-merging and gender swapping didn’t muddy the plot, and Laycock’s accordion playing was an interesting addition to the set list. In keeping with the venue, Johanna Lyon was wonderfully enthusiastic as Dogberry – you’ve met at least one overzealous security guard like this in your life.

I really enjoyed the increased focus on the solidarity between Hero, Beatrice, and Ursula, and the break from tradition in ending the play by returning  to this, the most solid and loving relationship in the work, the protective bonds of family and sisterhood.

Much Ado is everything it promises to be – the classic Shakespearean web of lies and love, accompanied by incredible live music, performed with incredible emotion and skill. Don’t forget your dancing shoes.

Warnings: Due to the venue and the cash bar operating throughout the show, Much Ado is strictly 18+ and ID will be checked at the door.

Much Ado is showing at The Zoo, Fortitude Valley, on May 15-17 at 7.30pm (doors open 7pm). Read more and book tickets on their event page. 

Review of May 15 performance.

Image credit: Geoff Lawrence.