Bard in the Botanics: Much Ado About Nothing (4 stars)

Much Ado About Nothing

Hannah Parker (Hero) and Rebecca Robin (Margaret) / credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Jennifer Dick's wry circus-based take on the Bard is a triumph

With lords and ladies relocated to Messina's Travelling Circus, Jennifer Dick's riff on the Bard's comedy drama fits like a silent movie star's evening glove. There is something of the Marx Bros when it romps, wildly inventive in its dalliances with physical comedy, and police becoming clowns. Darren Brownlie's double slap of Don John and Dogberry is uproarious, his every mangled vowel and extended limb hilariously outre.

Meanwhile, the seemingly unlovely, verbose Benedick (Adam Donaldson) is a puffed up grumpy little bear, with beautifully judged asides. Nicole Cooper is a perfect match for him, as her self-contained, wise and witty Beatrice slinks out into the audience to steal snacks, flirt with bearded men, and scoff at the merry matchmaking in her midst. She's also incredibly moving in more reflective moments.

Indeed, the characters are so beautifully-drawn and affectionately portrayed by the whole cast, that Hero (a warm, subtle Hannah Parker) and her famous 'slut-shaming' slander incident is all the more affecting when it arrives. Leonata's anguish is absolutely gut-wrenching, and Linda Duncan McLaughlin's monologue upon believing her daughter to be unvirtuous, feels horribly acute, like eavesdropping on a family feud.

Gender politics of the script notwithstanding, this is a rollicking and tender adaptation with many stand-out scenes which draw gales of applause. Carys Hobbs' gorgeous, colourful Victorian design reinforces the magical and fantastical quality. No wings, but much desire here: the prospect of running away to the circus has never been so appealing. It teeters on being chaotic, but is all the more endearing for it.

Much Ado About Nothing

Jennifer Dick directs Shakespeare's joyous comedy about romantic misfits Benedick and Beatrice, set in a Victorian travelling circus.

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