There’s a general belief that adding any bells and whistles to Shakespeare’s plays is unnecessary. So it was with trepidation I arrived at the cozy backyard that hosted Sevenfold Theatre’s production of Much To Do About Nothing. That trepidation was unfounded, as this production (with a 21 st century coat of paint) does a great justice to Shakespeare’s fine comedy.
Instead of the lush Italian city Messina of the 16th century, I was greeted with a stage set on the patio of a humble Kingsville backyard. The fledging company, launched in December of 2019, and this production are directed by Mitchell Wills. The decision to set the play in modern times, with iPhone messages abounding and vaping, doesn’t detract much from the original, as the comedy is the main focus. The language, while kept mostly the same, still shines through as Shakespeare so effortlessly does. Place names are substituted from classical Italian to modern Melbourne localities, earning plenty of laughs with the tongue in cheek references.
With more exaggerated body language accompanying the jokes, it helps the humour connect, which is perfect for audience members or children who are unfamiliar with the Bard.
The setting of a Kingsville backyard brings the material closer to home for the unseasoned audience member; they used an actual patio with a sliding door showing a kitchen, adding to the familiarity of the setting. Like the same pitfalls of love explored in the story could repeat themselves at your own backward summer party, something that was clearly aimed at by Wills. Set design includes colourful streamers of blue and reds, paper lanterns and fairy lights, along with a clothesline full of beach towels. Costuming by Zachary William Dixon is brightly coloured with an inner-city hipster cut to it, fitting the relaxed atmosphere that enveloped the yard, with the idea of the Australian Open Tennis as a clear inspiration. The use of physical humour has a sweet simplicity to it, and the song ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ was delightfully hammy, complete with Borachio flinging rose petals over the audiences as he headed down the aisle.
Petea Stark as the main heroine Beatrice, and Jesse Calvert as the hero Benedick both bring the cheeky humor and sizzling banter needed to get invested in their romance. Slightly more deeper nuances are harder to find in the acting, but that is made up for by the liveliness that radiates from them. Borachio by Kyle Scott, and Don Pedro by Billy Sloane also were highlights. By having such a small cast, cuts had to happen to the original, and kept the focus on our main cast. This helped deepen relationships without wasting time on a large cast of characters, which would have been confusing for such snug staging.
Slightly disappointing was Don John, played by Sara Bolch, as she was monotone and decidedly listless in delivery. While the gender inversion was fine, her acting simply didn’t hold up. If it was a directorial or choice by the actress, it was a poor one.
For Sevenfold’s debut production, Much To Do About Nothing is a modernized and cheeky re-imagining that brings enough laughs and gasps to keep you engaged. This Australian culture infused new production may have some fall-backs, but the sparkling cast holds everything up, and I’m excited to see what they do next.