Much Ado About Nothing at the P.A.C

October 28, 2013


It’s been almost two and a half months since the Project Arts Centre last opened its doors to an original mounting of a play and AC Production’s Much Ado About Nothing is a bearable return to business. There’s general clarity in the speech, fun had with the staging and a performance or two of note.Two couples fall in love in Messina, Italy updated here to the 1960’s .One set, Hero and Claudio, do so impetuously, a hallmark of their youth. The elder pair, Benedict and Beatrice, unwittingly, tricked by their comrades to betray their apparent disdain for marriage and for each other, for sport. But in the more than two hours traffic of our stage, nefarious rogues plant seeds of doubt that result in Hero’s public humiliation, so that the two B’s have to rise above trading wiry barbs and defend her honor.

What has it to say to a 21st century audience? With its reliance on witty dialogue, sexual innuendo and malapropisms over magic and fantasy it is one of Shakespeare’s most realistic romances.

But while it contains some of his most pleasing lines, Much Ado can be problematic for modern audiences, where characters actions stretch credulity to the absolute limit, convictions and affections are tossed aside without much goading and tragedy and comedy, fury and farce, heartfelt and heightened emotions are all jumbled together. It takes a clear directorial hand and keen performative eye to harness all these things into a smooth ride. But AC Productions do not buck the recent trend of letting the aesthetic do the talking.

What’s missing is a sense of forethought, of purpose. I never felt like what was unfolding before me meant anything, never really felt like the characters were emerging, transitioning or struggling. While I could follow what was going on in Peter Reid’s complacent production, I never cared, which made me wonder, what was its point?

Part of the problem comes from the busy direction, where the cast is in constant motion, even when they are standing still. Lips smirk and looks flash, eyebrows flutter and raise as ice cream is licked, sunglasses are donned and the occasional burst of jazz drowns out what’s being said. Words are exchanged, which by their very nature are funny. But much of the emotion and sub-text is simply not interpreted on the stage, the lengthy pauses between exchanges suggesting that much of the cast didn’t fully trust what they were doing.

It felt like a costumed read through lacking clarity of intent to make it live. It’s not sufficient to merely pick a play, pick an era to set it in and then run the lines. You must decide on what it is you think it was about and how you feel the playwright was trying to express that. So little time was spent gleaming meaning from the text here that come curtain up I couldn’t answer those key questions.

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