Much Ado About Nothing

An enchanting location provides the perfect backdrop for this production of Much Ado About Nothing.
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Zoe McGirr, Marty Ryan, Ingrid Pulley and Aaron Hollier in Much Ado About Nothing; Photo by Clare Lewis.

Shakespeare’s light-hearted romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing is currently being performed at Bathurst’s historical Abercrombie House. This enchanting nineteenth century location provides the perfect backdrop to a play written some two hundred years before Bathurst’s 1815 European settlement.

This sense of history is intensified by the decision to largely stage the play in the old Mansion’s manicured English gardens, which feature an extraordinary stone fountain as well as a clutch of iridescent and very vocal peacocks (the later providing numerous unscripted comedic contributions). But arguably the most beguiling feature of all is that of Abercrombie’s setting, with its panoramic views of an ancient landscape that existed well before either Shakespeare or Australia’s white settlement, and its wondrous ceiling of stars that take the audience even further back in time.

Staged under these circumstances, Much Ado About Nothing becomes an even more potent play about star-crossed lovers, skullduggery and mistaken identity, since it encourages profound questions to emerge concerning our existence. The levity of Shakespeare’s drama is balanced by the seriousness of such questions – questions that nonetheless dissipate once the hilarious Constable Dogberry enters the scene.

Abby Corbett’s interpretation of Dogberry is worthy of praise. Her sharp sense of comic timing embraces the absurdity of human existence. Corbett’s astonishing talent at times threatens to overshadow the rest of the cast, her malapropisms bringing to the fore the follies of human pride, depravity and deceit. And there is much deception in this drama.

The four leading players divide into two romantic couples, enacting the themes of love, pride, honour and shame. The first coupling involves the virtuous heroine Hero, played by Stephanie Rose, and the chivalrous Claudio (Roan Van Heekeren). Their youthful exuberance contrasts with the second duo’s skepticism and worldliness. Beatrice (played by director Zoe McGirr) captures the witty mirth of a maid who refuses to be swept up in love’s thrall. Her equally skeptical suitor Benedick (very well portrayed by Mick Rossitt) also resists love’s charm. But through chicanery and mischief each are persuaded that one is in love with the other, which results in the development of a mutual affection that ends in their marriage.

The Machiavellian villain, Don John, brilliantly played by Brett Van Heekeren, is the author of most of the mischief for not only does he deceive Benedick, but also the pure hearted Claudio. Van Heekeren’s villainy, much like Corbett’s comedy, is so powerfully enacted that he at times threatens to steal the show from the leading romantic couples. (That ultimately it does not is a credit to the wider cast’s acting abilities.) The extremities of villainy and comedy embodied by a ruthless Don John and a droll Dogberry operate as mercurial scales of justice, supporting the rest of the well-conceived and costumed players.

What makes this production even more outstanding is its music. Aaron Hollier’s skills on the electric piano and acoustic guitar are astonishing. Positioned on a small stage, he is seen throughout in Elizabethan garb as he creates a moody soundtrack that ripples across the gardens and toward the wilderness beyond.  The peacocks regularly called back in what may well have been admiration—or dare I say, love?

This play must not be missed.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Much Ado About Nothing

Artistic Director Zoe Newman McGirr, 
Producer: Christopher Morgan
Assistant Director: Bronni Colley
Costume Designer: Shar Ryan
Set Designer: Sarah Gurich
Stage Manager/Technician: Christian Westenfelder
Cast: Marty Ryan, Ingrid Pulley, Roan Van Heekeren, Stephanie Rose Wait, Mick Rossitt, Zoe McGirr, Sam English, Paula Dell-McComstie, Brett Van Heekeren, Hannah Armstrong, Lucas Murphy, Teleatha Prssier, Riley Stockman, Abby Corbet, John Vickery, Mikey Bower, Bethany McCumstie, Aaron Hollier, Michael Hordern, Tom McCumstie

Abercrombie House, Bathurst
Running until Saturday, November 28

Suzie Gibson
About the Author
Dr Suzie Gibson is a Senior Lecturer in English at Charles Sturt University.