This semester, SUDS is working its magic in the stripped-back Studio B—a far cry from the mystery and gravity (and freezing cold) of The Cellar theatre. Due to renovations the society has been turned out from its usual haunt, and has had to maGke use of new rehearsal and performance spaces.
It’s oddly fitting, then, that this production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing should seem confused as to where, or when, it is.
SUDS have chosen to go with modern costuming for this show, a fine and understandable choice. However, many costume choices feel somewhat at random and, without any thematic link, say very little about their respective characters—with the exception of Patrick Morrow’s short shorts, which probably deserve their own show. Whilst the simplistic set focuses our attention better on the performers themselves, this fact plus the costuming give no clear sense of a time or place in which the play occurs. With no context in which to place these events, it becomes difficult to assess or fully appreciate them.
The staging, too, is frequently somewhat unoriginal—Don Pedro’s be-sunglassed posse stand clustered opposite Leonato’s family in the scene of their first meeting, as Beatrice and Benedick circle in the centre trading verbal barbs. It’s not the most interesting way to stage the scene, if one that does work. It seems that much of this production follows in a similar vein of what is tried and tested by way of theatrical devices.
Despite all these elements the performance remains tight, coherent, and highly entertaining. The text’s humour carries through very well in each character and exchange—if some of the verbal humour is cheapened by easy sight gags—and the cast’s energy is high and infectious in larger scenes. Madeline Miller and Jack Ballhausen as the frenemies-turned-disgustingly-in-love Beatrice and Benedick are both captivating and share a wonderful on-stage chemistry. The play does suffer a significant dip in its momentum in the moments when only one character is on stage, the cast struggling to fully hold the audience individually, but how well the ensemble works as a cohesive whole largely offsets this.
The production also benefits from clever use of sound. A high point of the evening is a delightful, Beatnik take on Hey Nonny Nonny. Similarly, the scene of Hero’s vigil becomes surprisingly touching with the addition of a well performed a capella number—we even feel for douchetastic Nice Guy Claudio as he and Don Pedro silently watch her grave. The soundtrack too, has been well selected—I couldn’t help but chuckle at the apt inclusion of The Rapture’s No Sex For Ben.
This is certainly a good production of Much Ado and a diverting evening, as much as it does not set itself apart from other “good” productions of the play. It’s well acted, funny and enjoyable, but consistently plays it safe and standard where otherwise changing it up a little might have proved beneficial. It’s clear that SUDS is surviving, even thriving, despite the society’s temporary displacement—but it remains to be seen if a new space will allow them to go beyond.