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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (article first published : 2003-05-8)

Much Ado About Nothing, presented by the University of Natal Durban’s Drama and Performance Studies programme in association with First National Bank, is currently running in the Pieter Scholtz Open-Air Theatre on the UND campus. It features a cast of over 30 and marks the third of the FNB Shakespeare Festival series, following the highly successfulA Midsummer Night's Dream (2001) and The Comedy of Errors (2002).

In approaching their interpretation of Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy, directors Mervyn McMurtry and Tamar Meskin have aimed at being “exuberantly bold” and “culturally diverse” while retaining Shakespeare’s original engaging relevance. They have looked to the early history of Durban for their reference points and produced an entertaining, whacky and freestyle interpretation of the work.

The opening scene includes The Natal Anthem, first sung in schools in 1889, as well as a bunch of hopelessly inept policemen dressed like the Keystone Cops but actually wearing a faithful version of the rather odd outfits worn by early Point policemen and borough police. The character of Leonato becomes mayor of Durban and if, as the narrator suggests, you find it a little difficult to believe that in the late 1800’s, the mayor was a black man … then use your imagination!

This Much Ado has everything – Boers, Zulus, Voortrekker women in lacy caps and a funeral procession straight out of The House of Bernarda Alba. There’s knock-about comedy, melodrama and burlesque. There are balletic movements and a gavotte closely followed by tango, cha cha and the fox trot. The music ranges from kwaito and rap to Amazing Grace and Handel’s Messiah.

So if you’re a Shakespeare purist, by now you will have realised that this one is definitely not up your street! Although you will enjoy Rogers Ganesan’s set which is directly based on the bandstand which was once situated on the site where the City Hall is now.

Purism aside, this is how Shakespeare’s works have stood the test of time - their ability to move chameleon-like with the times and remain open to all interpretations, settings, languages, fashions and styles. In the end, it’s Shakespeare who triumphs, not necessarily the production.

Most of the main characters acquit themselves well although I fear that more focus was placed on the action and diversions from the script than on individual interpretations. I’ve played the venue myself and know what’s required in terms of vocal power and articulation. Unfortunately, far too many cast members were virtually inaudible and lacked sufficient projection to match the robustness of the production.

All concerned have obviously had much enjoyment in putting this production together and, although personally I would have preferred something a little less hectic, it’s possibly because I’m already a fan of Shakespeare and not “meeting” him for the first time. For an introduction - as it will be for many members of the cast as well as to a large portion of the schools’ audiences - to the Bard’s work then I say, go for it! Tonight’s audience certainly enjoyed the show as no doubt will those of the rest of the run.

Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre from May 7 to 17 at 18h00. Tickets R20 (R10 scholars and students) with concessions for block bookings of more than 20. For bookings or any further information, contact Claudette Wagner on 031 260-3134 (weekdays 08h30 to 13h00), fax 031 260-1410 or e-mail wagnerc1@nu.ac.za – Caroline Smart




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