Performance review: Much Ado About Nothing, Australian Shakespeare Company

Shakespeare set within a rock concert on the lawns of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

‘Shakespeare Under the Stars’, a summer tradition of the Australian Shakespeare Company, is offering an impressively innovative and polished production to kick off the year: Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy of deceit, gender roles, and the pains and gifts of love. 

This two-and-a-half-hour (plus intermission) adaptation, directed by Glenn Elston, situates Beatrice as a member of a touring band, The Babes of Disdain, and Benedick as frontman of their rival group, The Love Gods. It’s an appreciable justification for the show’s frequent, genre-splicing musical interludes, which utilise lines of the play, and work seamlessly. 

The timelessness of music seems to inform other facets of Much Ado About Nothing. Modern words stud the original text. The set evokes the neon of the X Factor logo, and the bar where the musicians and their affiliates convene to jest and collude is generic. The clever, maximalist costuming by Karla Erenbots, suggesting not only the capriciousness of the production’s context, but also the nature of each character, is a delight to behold. 

There is a risk, when drawing on different eras, that things will grow as muddled as a fever dream, but most references – to Woodstock, say, or the newer phenomenon of ‘Rick Rolling’ (an internet meme involving the unexpected appearance of the music video for Rick Astley’s 1987 song ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’) – are concise and discrete. Overkill occurs only once, when a rodeo-style number obscures members of the ensemble with cow-print pants and celebrity masks (ranging from David Bowie to Miley Cyrus). I am not opposed to absurdity, but in this case it is difficult to recognise the strong vocals or Sue-Ellen Shook’s smooth choreography. 

All performers deliver the gaiety or gravitas needed to make the foreseeability of the play’s outcome feel beside the point, and to ensure that the language is not much of a hurdle to our understanding of what exactly is unfolding. Claudio’s (Alex Cooper) enraged renunciation of Hero (Larissa Teale), for example, is so convincing that you may worry for a minute that their marriage really is doomed.

Read: Theatre reviews: The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies, ASC

Anna Burgess’ weary and wryly aggrieved portrayal of Beatrice seems wonderfully switched-on; if she weren’t speaking in Shakespearean prose and verse, she could be a woman of the present day. Nicholas Gell, transforming so expressively from anti-love to smitten as Benedick, is also a worthy lead. 

With its farcical manoeuvres and fundamental vibrancy, the show is not far removed from a Disney musical, and therefore appropriate for a broad audience. If you are in the mood for a romcom and want to savour the warm weather, perhaps pack a picnic and get swept up in Much Ado About Nothing. 

Much Ado About Nothing
Australian Shakespeare Company

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Director: Glenn Elston
Musical Director: Paul Norton
Costume Design: Karla Erenbots
Cast: Nicholas Gell, Anna Burgess, Alex Cooper, Hugh Sexton, Kevin Hopkins, Elizabeth Brennan, Claire Nichols, Syd Brisbane, Larissa Teale, Madeleine Somers, Tony Rive

Tickets: $25-$110

Much Ado About Nothing will be performed until 4 February 2023.

Olivia Arcaro is a freelance writer and English tutor based in Naarm/Melbourne. A student of RMIT University’s Bachelor of Creative Writing, she is at work on a collection of essays and a coming-of-age novel. You can contact her at, or on Instagram: @oliviaarcaro.