There is an alternate title for Much Ado About Nothing which is Love's Labours Won. Scholars pit this play against another of Shakespeare's comedies, Love's Labours Lost, in which the lusty lads don't get the girls at the end. The 'happy ending' (or the 'love wins in the end' idea) is a gorgeous sentiment for us to keep present in rehearsals, but I think the lasting title - Much Ado About Nothing - is the driving force of the play. I don't just mean this in the obvious sense that a lie is believed and the repercussions provide our plot. I mean that throughout the play formalities are pitted against casualness as protocols are erected and then broken again and again. This is important for an Australian audience. How many of us have travelled overseas and caused an 'ado' by not understanding or refusing to follow the rules and customs of another culture? I wonder if our relaxed way of life doesn't make us causers of much, however loveable and forgivable, ado.
Scholars tell us the play was written in the middle of Shakespeare's career (around 1598) and that it was popular from its earliest productions. Most interestingly, it is one of only a few Shakespeare plays written predominantly in prose. This plays again into the formal vs. informal tension. In Elizabethan England, it was the convention for plays to be written in verse. Shakespeare, ever the rule breaker, fights against this from within. Theatre is the home for flirting, pushing, and playing with rules and boundaries and that is highly present in the narrative, as well as the structure.
With Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare can be found inventing one of the most popular sub-genres of comedy: romantic screwball. A form popularised by films such as The Lady Eve and Adam’s Rib, it generates its energy from the friction between two worthy adversaries who claim to hate each other, but who you know are eventually going to turn that hatred into love. For four hundred years, audiences have delighted at the flying sparks when Benedick and Beatrice battle their wits, which is a nice way of reminding ourselves that, with Shakespeare, words are what counts. It’s no coincidence that in the Elizabethan era, people didn’t talk of going to see a play, but of going to hear one.
While it’s true that Much Ado is a classic comedy, sometimes the verbal fireworks distract from darker undercurrents. All of Shakespeare’s comedies play with being tragedies at certain points and Much Ado is no exception: at least one scene can be quite shocking if you don’t know it’s coming, and the play certainly has a point to make about how quickly people believe what they’re told. Even the battles of wits that Benedick and Beatrice engage in should give us pause: ‘teasing’ is sometimes considered an important phase of romantic love, but what happens if a couple can never move beyond it? Part of me agrees with the character of Leonato: if Benedick and Beatrice were married for a week, they’d argue themselves to death.
The year just gone celebrated 50 years since the publication of Joan Lindsey's seminal text, Picnic at Hanging Rock. And as the audience and cast picnic for our inaugural Shakespeare by the Lakes production, you will see a strong aesthetic of Australia at the turn of the last century. It's important that our characters are doing the same thing as our audience, enjoying a picnic in summer. Indeed, this is the philosophy that drives our vision: the actors are with the audience at every word of the play. Just as the Globe Theatre in London had and still has a great emphasis on audience interaction, so too will Much Ado About Nothing in each of its outdoor settings in Canberra and Queanbeyan.
This is in some ways a lean production of Much Ado About Nothing. As Winston Churchill once said, the mind cannot take in what the seat will no longer endure. As much as we love Shakespeare’s words, we recognise that there’s only so many you can stomach at once, and so we’ve aimed to concentrate our version around what needs to be there. The only other guiding principle we’ve stuck to throughout is that Shakespeare’s plays are too expansive and fantastical to be matched with realisim. The words are so poetic that they almost reach to the status of music, and so any acting and design elements need to match this quality.
When Shakespeare's text is treated with the correct technique, the images, the pulse, the mood, the meaning all comes to life. The expression is epic, and so performing with no roof and no walls is quite fitting.
We are certainly hoping to reach you as if there are no barriers.
If you enjoy our inaugural production, please look out for the 2019 season announcement. We could not have succeeded in 2018 without the support of our corporate partners, EAVs, Vikings Group, McDonalds, Hyperdome Tuggeranong, MLC Advice, National Capital Toyota, ICON Water, Cromwell Property Group and Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council.
Dr Duncan Driver & Lexi Sekuless
Lexi and Duncan discuss this production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Behind the scenes. Lexi and Duncan offer th epart of Claudio to Izaac Beech.