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While Much Ado About Nothing is celebrated as an ageless romantic comedy, THEA302 and THEA308 left us surprisingly overwhelmed with their inquisitive, eclectic shake-up of this Shakespeare classic. Directed by talented practitioner Stella Reid, this unique metatheatrical production is told through the eyes of students.
During the show, the ensemble would shift into a “student narrative.” The house-lights flickered on and actors would return to their student selves, commenting and navigating their way through the complexities of Shakespeare’s multidimensional characters and intersecting storylines. The set captured this through converging lines on the floor, and clusters of chairs that were hung mid-air and thrust onstage, emphasising the classroom environment.
Perhaps the most heightened of tragedies arose during the wedding ceremony scene where Claudio (played by Simon Davis) shames bride-to-be Hero (Ailise Beales), by throwing water in her face and tearing a bouquet at her feet, having heard of her (false) infidelity. Hero falls to the ground and weeps, her mother Leonata (Tiana Offner) cradling her offstage while the ensemble tenderly sing “Heartbeats” by José Gonzalez. Beatrice (Ophelia Wass) laments her cousin Hero’s suffering, “oh that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace!”
A stand-out moment of meta-theatre was demonstrated in the pressing dialogue that arose out of this tragical scene—as to whether Claudio deserved forgiveness. Facilitated by meta-Director Nino Raphael, the audience were invited to join the discussion. Claudio’s childish, impulsive character is explored through conversation, along with the feelings of hurt and rejection that manifest in his angry, slanderous retaliation towards Hero. We found immense value in this open, fruitful conversation around Shakespeare’s inherent double standards.
The ensemble were a composite of talents: Rory Hammond as Benedick had charismatic engagement with audience members; Wass’s rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” induced tears and goosebumps. Katie Alexander’s delightful mimed character Cupid drew attention to the poignant moments between lovers, and kept us smiling and involved.
Stella reflected that their process-focussed production resisted traditional interpretations of Much Ado About Nothing, that tend to “treat shakespeare as a cage.” In two hours THEA302 truly captivated us, and allowed the audience to understand and critique Shakespeare’s distancing, grandiose depiction of character relationships, and language.