BWW Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Pop-up Globe Auckland
Reviewed by Glenda Pearce
"This can be no trick!"
Opening night of the second play of the Pop-Up Globe's Summer Season of Love - and it's a playful, laughter-filled, exuberant, Polynesian-tinged romp. The slapstick farce of Dogberry and Verges' pre-show action makes immediate and direct connection with the audience. Already, we know there will be no moments lacking lively audience interaction. "Much Ado about Nothing" is filled with a range of comedic layers- the wit, the intellectual banter, the farce, the clowning, the slapstick, the sexual innuendo. The festive tone (so appropriate for the festive season) is secured in the opening moments as the characters explode on to the stage for the first of many dance sequences. The audience is in for a treat - and they know it.
Ingeniously directed by Miriama McDowell, this is a rom-com to beat all rom-coms. She wants the audience to feel a sense of ownership, of pride in its elements of Aotearoa, and she interweaves this concept very effectively throughout the play. Rituals from our part of the world are placed firmly into Shakespeare's world - and it works magnificently. A buoyant sequence of songs, and Polynesian dance styles (Kasina Campbell) maintain the high-spirited vitality of the production. Samoan, Maori, and Hawaiian languages are all interwoven seamlessly (and respectfully) into the text, and the creative and culturally appropriate and themed costuming (Chantelle Gerrard) definitely supports the overall theme. (The green leaves of Beatrice's under garments were a masterly touch!)We can feel the genuine warmth of this slice of the South Pacific. The music (Paul McLaney) is familiar, evocative and atmospheric. We love hearing Shakespeare's verse spoken as realistic dialogue, without losing any of its metrical power. We are watching and hearing contemporary Aotearoa, firmly embedded in the story that's unfolding. , We can laugh with them, rather than at them, and appreciate the banter, the wit, the love, and feel the pain, when the dark moments create the complication that arrests the comedy.
You can't judge by appearances, warns Shakespeare. All of his plays are filled with characters who fall into broad archetypes: sovereign, warrior, carer and trickster. All of these appear in every play. This play is full of tricksters - virtually every character having a turn at creating havoc well-intentionally or unintentionally, or with malicious intent, for another. This trickery builds on Shakespeare's timeless truth that not everything you see is what it seems to be! We need to be aware of "information" we might learn from deliberate eavesdroppings, mistaken conclusions, assumptions and misreporting!
Honest and true, beautiful, sweet and innocent Hero (Jess Hong) is wooed and won by her handsome, honest suitor, Claudio (Theo David). There is a delightful romantic synergy about this couple in this play. A handsome, noble, well-meaning Don Pedro (James Maeva) unconsciously foreshadows the line of miscommunication when he woos Hero in Claudio's stead. Jealous, scheming and bad-tempered Don John, (Greg Johnson) the plain-dealing villain, seizes the opportunity to create mischief: "If I can cross him in anyway, I bless myself in every way". Never mind that it's Hero and Claudio who will become his victims.
This is an outstanding cast, an outstanding production, exact in every theatrical detail. Every element is well-honed, thoughtfully considered and true to the overall impact. Line delivery is fresh and spontaneous, with a spirited clarity and the dialogue is reinforced by precise (and often challenging) physicality in its enactment.
Although all the scenes are inventively shaped, without a doubt there are three key episodes so superbly staged, that the audience will never forget them. The first is the trick played on Benedick (Rutene Spooner), the confirmed bachelor. Suspended on a flowery swing above the main stage, Benedick is astounded to overhear how Beatrice is "so in love" with him, but she will never confess it! Cleverly staged and well-timed movement from Claudio (Theo David), Leonato (Stephen Lovatt) and Don Pedro (James Maeva) has the audience enjoying the dramatic irony of the trick being played.
Likewise, close on its heels is the entrapment of Beatrice. Undoubtedly Beatrice (Renee Lyons) is a modern independent woman, and popular with the crowd. Keenly intelligent and witty, shouts of "you go girl!" followed much of her banter with Benedick. She takes ownership of the stage when she is on it. However, no one would have expected the lengths, the widths, the depths and heights she scales - all of which she goes to, to try and overhear the conversation between Hero and Ursula (Amy Usherwood); a conversation in which she learns that Benedick is horribly in love with her!
Undoubted talents, and scene stealers Dogberry (Tom Wingfield) and Verges (Darcy Kent) weave their energetic slapstick humour throughout the play. The notable highpoint (literally) is when they abseil from the top of the Globe's galleries!The audience are so attached to the characters by the time we arrive to the final wedding scene, that we just want to keep on celebrating their love with them. We are genuinely connected by the cocktail of emotions being experienced in the theatre. A bubble-filled floating happiness is tinged by the sense of loss. We really don't want this to end.
Don't miss out - see all of the final season of the Pop-Up Globe's SUMMER OF LOVE.
Season runs December 13 - March 1