‘Much Ado About Nuthink’ was celebratory.
No matter what generation you come from, almost every Australian has a local pub. Drinking culture and community connection is engrained into the fibers of the Australian identity, and Brisbane Arts Theatre’s latest production, ‘Much Ado About Nuthink’ plants itself right inside this society. William Shakespeare’s comedy ’Much Ado About Nothing’ is transported to a modern Aussie pub, complete with check-ins affixed to the doors.
‘Much Ado About Nuthink’ follows a band of football players, led by Claudio, after a big victory. Their celebrations are highlighted by the courtship of Hero, Leonato’s young daughter, by Claudio. Meanwhile, Claudio’s right-hand man, Benedick, and the knife-tongued Beatrice are playing their own cat and mouse game of reluctantly wooing each other. All the while, Don John, the brother of the mayor of the town, Donna Pedro, hatches a plot to throw the pub into chaos. When a sex and domestic violence scandal rocks the town, each party must fight to restore order and their reputation in the town or face being outcast forever.
The set design was beautifully nostalgic and serves as an everyman-pub which gave audiences a sense of familiarity. A playlist of Australian rock and pop classics underpinned the action, complete with the brilliant Samantha Grey credited as ‘The Nutbush Coach’.
The leading duo of Claudio and Hero, played by Alexander O’Connell and Leah Mustard brought an emotional arc to their plotline and made us root for the downfall of Claudio, and the vengeance of Hero. Hero’s father, Leonato, played by Dominic Tennison brought forth the deeper tragedy of the play’s themes in the second act and gave a genuinely moving performance as the scorned paternal figure.
A hilarious highpoint was Regan Warner as Benedick, who managed to make this dogmatic anti-lover an audience favourite with his skill in physical comedy. His counterpart, Beatrice, played by Tallulah Grey, packed an absolute punch of keen wit and dark humour. Donna Pedro, a role that had been gender-swapped for this production, played by Cathy Stanley, truly captured the essence of a regional-town politician. Stanley and Grey brought an abundance of authority and nuance to their roles, proving that when we adapt Shakespeare, we can put women in positions of power with the right alterations and the right performers.
The absolute highlight of the evening was the town’s police officers, Dogberry and Verges, played by Gordon Wyeth and Cedar Millar, who bumbled around their policing duties in perfect Shakespearian comedic fashion. The comedy was punctuated by a resounding statement about police corruption in Queensland made all the more effective in comparison to their satire.
Another magical performance from this cast was given by June Xiao as Balthasar, the musician. Xiao had a uniquely angelic voice and great skill on the guitar. She had an ethereal stage presence and grounded the chaos and comedy around her.
As so much attention was placed on the Australian recontextualisation, some of the beauty of the language was lost in the dialogue which often became rushed and difficult to understand. Shakespearian language requires particular attention and acumen to properly deliver, and perhaps the contemporary setting does not always lend itself to the form.
Nevertheless, it is so important that companies stage Shakespeare in creative and fresh ways to ensure that his plays remain relevant for the modern audience. Director John Grey’s blending of distinctly Australian issues into a play from a world miles away from our own breathed new life into the story. The themes of domestic violence and toxic masculinity in sport sit effectively in our current social zeitgeist and were handled with care and realism, making for a Shakespearian night at the theatre that not only provided all of the entertainment we expect from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, but with a celebratory and exposing, Australian coat of paint.
‘Much Ado About Nuthink’ performs until Thursday, 28 May at Brisbane Arts Theatre. For more information visit the Arts Theatre website.