A populist Much Ado in robust style, this is Shakespeare through beer goggles. Sink a few and it all starts to look very attractive.
New company Bar’d Work is a work-in-progress, bent on delivering lively, accessible Shakespeare to the pubs of Sydney and to a largely non-theatregoing audience. Much Ado, which is likened to a Shakespearian rom-com more often than not, is an ideal play for this kind of treatment.
To Messina, NSW then, where returning soldier Claudio has fallen madly in love with Hero, an innocent maiden for whom he always held a candle. Marriage is on the cards – until the villainous Don John, determined to heap shame upon his brother Don Pedro (Hero’s father) dupes Claudio into believing Hero has been unfaithful. Claudio, a non-too-worldly guy, takes the bait.
At the same time, Hero’s spunky older cousin Beatrice, a committed singleton, is engaged in “a merry war” of words with the like-minded Benedick. They are in love, of course, though protest loudly and wittily that they can’t stand each other. In short, it takes a lot of twists and turns to get everyone to their happy place.
Performing in bars and dining rooms across Sydney (upstairs at the Shakey in Surry Hills in this instance), Bar’d Work dispense with the conventional audience-performer relationship. There’s no stage and barely room enough to swing a lute, so the company of eight mix it with the punters, joining them at their tables and chatting between scenes. You may find yourself sharing your chips or pressed into delivering a few lines. Odds-on you’ll be singing along and on your feet dancing at play’s end.
The ensemble energy and comic attack is excellent, particularly from Chris Huntly-Turner (who is Benedick and co-director) and fellow Pop-Up Globe veteran Asalemo Tofete, who plays Don John and the lusty Margaret. And while we’re talking unlikely actor doublings, Chelsea Zeller is all sweetness as Hero and ballsy-funny in the comic role of Dogberry. Shannon Ryan is a smart and vivacious Beatrice and Martin Everett a suitably callow Claudio.
Actor-guitarist Rory O’Keeffe puts the twang under the production’s musical numbers, all of which you’ll probably know. No one sticks entirely to the script and the play is rife with sweary asides and exclamations.
If you’re a Shakespeare buff, this Much Ado might not be the cleverest or most slickly produced production you’ve ever seen but there’s still a good chance it’ll be up there with the funniest. And if the Bard isn’t usually your cup of tea, try him with a few beers. It might surprise you how easily it goes down.
Much Ado About Nothing:
Friday March 22: Forresters Hotel, Surry Hills
Sunday March 24: Staves Brewery, Glebe