Students make much of Shakespearean favourite

31 March 2023

In WAAPA’s Much Ado About Nothing they all live happily ever after, and David Zampatti says there are plenty of reasons for its audience to be happy too.

Much Ado About Nothing, WAAPA 3rd Year Acting students
Roundhouse Theatre, 30 March 2023

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (like Jerry Seinfeld’s “Show About Nothing”) is far less slight, and far more pointed, than its title implies.

It may not have quite the wisdom to go with its wit that As You Like It, the next play off the Shakespearian production line, possesses, but it has more than enough of that wit, and a memorable bunch of characters to deliver it. Though it’s rarely listed among the playwright’s masterworks, that explains why it remains one of his most popular and often performed works.

It’s a gift for the graduating students of the Western Australian Academy of Arts’ (WAAPA) acting course, with its energy and sexiness, and heaps of heady star turns for them to get their teeth into.

The distinguished Romanian actor and teacher, and guest director, Clara Vodă is well aware of the potential of the play and the strengths of her young performers. Her staging rocks and rollicks, driven by an inventive and entertaining use of music by the composer and musician Jonathan Parker, some heady set pieces from choreographer Sam Chester and Sarah Halton’s sumptuous and slinky costuming on as good-looking a cast as you’d see anywhere.

Clara Vodă’s staging rocks and rollicks. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

The familiar story and its people need no elaboration; the two pairs of lovers, the young first-sighters Hero (Lucinda Smith) and Claudio (Jesse Vasiliadis) and the worldly wise and wary Beatrice (Isabelle Bäsén) and Benedick (Dieudonne Ngabo), their vicissitudes at the hands of the villainous Don John (Tyler Redman) and his henchmen, the bowdlerist official Dogberry (Ruth Henaway) and his sidekick Verges (Tré Maclou), and how it all works out in the end, make it the Love Actually of the Shakespeare canon. Richard Curtis eat your heart out.

Neither does the cut and thrust of the dialogue and the multiple-entendre of the wordplay (a quick dive into the etymology of the innocent-sounding “Nothing” of the title alone is a show-stopper).

Brilliant as it is, Shakespearian dialogue can be an elusive critter, and (remembering this was the first production of their graduating year of public performances) it takes the cast some time to ease into it and provide a stable platform for the playwright’s wonderful words.

Once they do, especially after interval, their appeal, the play’s comedy and its darker undertones more than does the trick.

Maybe it’s unfair to single out individual performers in WAAPA student productions, especially one with such an impressive cast, but every now and again you can’t avoid or resist it. There’s not much on the page to draw you to the character of Antonio, Beatrice’s father and Hero’s uncle, but Elyse Phelan is a firecracker who lights up every moment she’s on stage. One instant, when she rounds on Claudio and bares her teeth at him in rage, all but blew me through the back of my chair. Remember her name.

Much Ado About Nothing plays WAAPA’s Roundhouse Theatre until 5 April 2023.

‘Much Ado About Nothing is a gift for the graduating students of WAAPA’s acting course. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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