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Shakespeare al fresco.

BWW Review: SHAKESPEARE UNDER THE SKIES: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Stockade Botanic Park Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday 15th January 2022.

I'll go a long way for a Shakespeare, so I took the 202 from stop B8 Grote Street and got off at stop 32, just across from the steep pathway to the Stockade Botanic Park, for Butterfly Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing. My first surprise is the rehabilitated quarry that has been turned into a beautiful and leafy civic amenity.

When the plague struck London, as it did in Shakespeare's day, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, his company, left the city and performed where they could. Inn yards had useful balconies, rich houses had gardens with hedges and bowers. Shakespeare's love comedies frequently feature scenes in gardens and this Much Ado sits beautifully in this setting. The use of doubling and editing of the script, though it excises some great lines and ideas, brings the traffic of the play down to about two hours, much as Shakespeare would have known it. Butterfly Theatre may be short on costumes and props but doesn't shortchange anybody where energy and imagination are concerned.

The story is a variation on a common theme, of noting and nothing. Rumour can kindle the recognition of true love and it can also destroy lives and relationships. Don Pedro, John Rosen, arrives in Messina. His is a well-spoken portrait of a man used to command. His partners are the handsome young soldier, Claudio, Nick Kennett, who has a Hero waiting for him in the form of Leah Lowe, who is suitably winsome. Rumour will provoke their tragedy.

The play, of course, for centuries has been about Beatrice and Benedict, who never meet, but there is a witty war of words between them. Tom Tassone is a bluff and bearded leading man, but Kristen O'Dwyer is not the expected Beatrice. Her characterisation is inward and there is a strong sense in her that the previous encounters with Benedict referred to in the play did her great emotional damage. The interlocking tragedy and comedy are well directed by Russell Slater. While it holds our attention as it should, it also brings focus to the well-chosen supporting cast. Kate Anolak is commanding as the villainous, Don John, Don Pedro's brother, costumed and played as a woman but with a few confused pronouns along the way. She's great as Dogberry, captain of the watch, who is desperate to be written down as an ass. Chris Gun brings compassionate dignity to the role of the friar who is instrumental in saving Hero's life and reputation. Steve Turner's Leonato really comes to life when he confronts the men who have wronged his daughter; it's a passionate and moving portrayal.

Thomas Filsell seems to be ever taking his shirt off, to great effect, and Nadia Talotta radiates a warm sensuality. It is pretty easy to imagine this Borachio and that Margaret at it like bunnies in the bushes. Bronwyn Ruciak, as a mud-smeared, halberd-bearing watch person, is unforgettable.

There's a short and enjoyable prelude from The Welkin Dance, Matthew Lykos, and Jodie O'Regan, but I'd have loved more music during the play and perhaps a Bergamasque dance at the end.

Photography, Les Zetlein.

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