Much Ado About Nothing 2012

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Review by Nicole Russo Barefoot Review

On a balmy evening in the McLaren Vale, a sweaty but appreciative audience set up shop on a grassy amphitheatre in the grounds of Coriole Winery to enjoy the nomadic Essential Theatre's 2012 Shakespeare production.

Treating us to Much Ado About Nothing, this is the company’s celebratory tenth year of entertaining Australia’s (and now New Zealand's) vino-sipping theatre tragics, and their ninth year performing at the hospitable Coriole.

On reporting my experience of the Essential troupe for the third time, it feels repetitive to sing their praises but in all honesty, it's nigh impossible to fault them. They take what could be stuffy, high-society Shakespeare and show you the master’s work as it would have been. The actors use their open-air stage from edge to edge, often positioning themselves amongst the audience and including them in the proceedings.

Having experienced productions of Shakespeare in London's Globe Theatre (about as authentic as one can hope for these days), the Essential troupe’s interpretation is wonderfully close and imbues the same sense of comedy amongst the volumes of calamity and unrequited love. Considering that Shakespeare wrote his works for the unwashed masses, one imagines this is how the great man's comedies were meant to be enjoyed - up close and interactive with hilariously overdone characterisations, cheeky musical interludes, dramatic highs and tragic lows.

Essential's productions are known for their well-placed and sympathetic modernisations, and these were particularly understated in Much Ado.  The 20s inspired costumes and few modern references could have passed you by. Their rotating cast saw lots of familiar and well-loved faces on the afternoon, with the appearances of Grant Foulkes (Claudio), Amanda Labonte (Beatrice) and Sophie Lampel (Leonata/Dogberry) always a sign of wonderful things to come.

Of particular excellence was the partnership between Lampel and Madeleine Harding (Hero/Verges) as Dogberry and Verges, the two idiotic nightwatchmen who chance upon and capture the villainous Borachio (Tim Paige) as he returns from framing the virtuous and innocent Hero. Lampel and Hardy play these dolts brilliantly and with perfect comedic timing, easily capturing the most laughs and applause for the night.

Yet another superb and thoroughly enjoyable performance from this wonderfully talented group – it’s fast becoming a highly anticipated annual tradition for this fan.