Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.
Directed by Lexi Sekuless. Co-directed by Lexi Sekuless and Duncan Driver. Shakespeare by the Lakes. Glebe Park. Lakespeare Company Friday January 16. 2018
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
On a balmy summer’s afternoon and under a clear blue sky, ingenious entrepreneur Taimus Werner- Gibbings and his collaborators in an exciting initiative brought the Bard to Glebe Park in a blaze of brilliance. The idea of providing a free open air performance of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing to the Canberra community is brilliant. The picturesque setting within the tree lined grounds of Glebe Park is brilliant. And the festive experience of being immersed in a lively, utterly captivating and exuberantly playful production of Shakespeare’s battle of wits and devious machinations offers a brilliant introduction to a visionary dream in homage to Joseph Papp’s enduring Shakespeare in the Park at New York’s iconic Central Park.
Almost two thousand people flocked to the park to revel in the free entertainment, relax on the grass, picnic with friends or enjoy the offerings of the food and wine stalls. Singer Sunny Amoreena and her band entertain as a warm up act before Leonato (Jerry Hearn) enters to announce the arrival of the soldiers returning from war and a hush falls across the expectant crowd.
Played with panache and a keen observance of the conflict of human frailty and failing, Much Ado About Nothing is the perfect choice for a Shakespeare in the Park. At its core, the play is about the nature of love, loyalty, allegiance and the eternal struggle of good over evil. Above all, it is a thrilling story, crafted by the master of drama and in this production performed with all the gusto of passion and subtlety of human emotion. Shakespeare plays our sensibilities in the thrust and parry of wit and taunting jibes between Benedick (Duncan Driver) and Beatrice (Lexi Sekuless). Self-confessed villainy is joyfully played with vaudevillian evil incarnate by Helen McFarlane. A momentary willing suspension of disbelief readily accepts an actress in the role of the scheming Don John. More easily we may accept McFarlane as she doubles as the bumbling, clowning constable Dogberry, whose fellow members of the watch uncover the treacherous deception of Don John’s money-grabbing offsider Borachio (John Lombard).
Although parts of the plot may at times appear a pastiche of Shakespeare’s more familiar plays, Shakespeare At The Lake perform Much Ado About Nothing with relish and intelligent appreciation of plot, character and language. Theirs is masterly storytelling at its fun-filled best.
Shakespeare’s cheeky comedy of love concealed, love revealed, love defiled and love reconciled is deftly co-directed by Sekuless and Driver, injecting timely and clever bits of business to keep the action moving and audience engaged. Central to the drama is the war of wit and eventual capitulation to love by Benedick and Beatrice. Sekuless and Driver thrill and delight as the wit warring pair. Sekuless, aloof and spitting with sardonic retorts shifts to painful vulnerability at the cruel injustice of accusation against her cousin Hero (a beautifully sustained and moving performance by Jo Richards). Driver, bombastic and defiant against the point of Cupid’s arrow, falls ready victim to the trick played upon him by the Prince (Rob De Fries) and Hero’s lover Claudio (Izaac Beach). I can’t imagine a more perfect pair to play Shakespeare’s rivals in wit and confederates in this production of Much Ado.
“What fools these mortals be” Puck’s words in Midsummer Night’s Dream could well apply to Much Ado About Nothing’s collection of characters. Benedick and Beatrice fall ready victims to the tricks played upon them by their friends. All are readily duped by Don John’s wicked deceit to defame Hero’s reputation. Bumbling fools stumble on evident truths and in the true tradition of well-played comedy all’s well that ends well and love’s labour lost is cunningly regained. And so, with evil vanquished and love reconciled under the darkening, starry sky, the comedy ends in a happy dance.
From Glebe Park, this merry band of players move the following night to the banks of the Queanbeyan River for a final performance that took them from Tuggeranong to over the border. As I join the throng of delighted audience members, I remember Professor Stephen Prickett, who in the early Eighties had a vision for a replica Globe Theatre on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin. Sadly, his dream vanished into thin air. I can only hope that this remarkable venture will capture the imagination of Canberrans and their government and future audiences will again delight in a regular Summer of Shakespeare event.