A Shakespearian play that has you cheering, jeering, dancing, and jostling for a good view – everything that Shakespeare intended his work to be is brought to life in this production of Much Ado. Adapted from the original Much Ado About Nothing by Martin Ingle, the play is now set in Brisbane, a drama amongst musicians, families are now bands, constables are now seccies, and soliloquies are now indie ballads.
Taking over The Zoo (a perfect venue for this production) the action moves around the space, the audience initially herded by the security guards but soon, absorbed by the story, following the actors and arranging themselves around a scene. This was a genius tactic for building intimacy between the audience and the characters, breathing new life into a classic text by bringing it onto our level. Instances of contact between the actors and the audience – being bumped into, an ad libbed exchange – activated the crowd to contact the play. People were calling out encouragements, whistling at kisses, breaking silences and talking amongst themselves after scenes. It was a glimpse into how the original work would have been received. Director Matthew Caffoe truly understands the magic of Shakespeare and did a fantastic job on inviting a new audience to share his passion.
The real stars of the show were actually the stars of the show! This multi-talented cast were truly incredible. They had a lot on their plates – singing live, playing instruments, projecting in a huge room – all of this on top of performing Shakespeare. But their effortless and charismatic delivery, humour and energy, had everyone sold within minutes. This is a group of performers to watch out for – really such an impressive delivery, so talented, oh my god.
My one piece of criticism for an otherwise flawless performance was the label “immersive”. Immersion requires a deliberate positioning of the audience as co-creators and characters, and an agency to interact freely and affect outcomes. This production was a great example of audience activation through promenade theatre, but immersion was not realised, nor I think intended to be realised. For the uninitiated this mislabelling is irrelevant to their experience of the work, but for a production I hope is one day remounted on the main stage, a critical look at the theatrical lineage it falls into will best serve its intelligent design. “Immersive” has been the buzzword of this year’s Anywhere Theatre Festival – I for one am super excited to see so many independent artists responding to the festival’s site-specific invitation; but if we are to be a city of artists breaking away from traditional form we need to be more exacting with our language.
It has been so long since a play, let alone a Shakespearian adaptation, has had me grinning from start to finish. Much Ado has tapped straight into the heart of the text, bringing an energy and a humour to a classic work, but most importantly a youthfulness. This is a production and a team with big futures, it was a truly stunning piece of theatre and every one of them should feel immensely proud.
Seen Wednesday 23rd May, written by Esther Dougherty