Clocktower Lawn, University of Auckland, Auckland

06/03/2012 - 24/02/2012

Production Details

Shakespeare under the stars  

This March, one of Shakespeare’s most loved romantic comedies Much Ado About Nothing swings into glorious life. The University of Auckland’s 49th Outdoor Summer Shakespeare once again invites an audience to discover for themselves some of the country’s brightest emerging talent against a magical and iconic backdrop – the beautiful University Clocktower from March 3rd.

Much Ado About Nothing is a light-hearted romp that follows the fortunes of two pairs of lovers: Beatrice and Benedick, staunch advocates of singledom, and their comrades Claudio and Hero, whose sweet and innocent love for each other renders them virtually speechless. Much mirth, mayhem and mischief inevitably ensue…

Just one year from its Golden Anniversary, the Outdoor Summer Shakespeare again welcomes acclaimed NZ actor and noted Shakespearian,Michael Hurst, in the role of production advisor, as he mentors talented young director Sam Pascoe (Breaking Legs Theatre Co).

Pascoe and his team see their audience transported to post-World War 2 England in the Golden Age of the ’40s, where ‘swing was the thing’. A live band, in its own rotunda, will add period colour with catchy ragtime tunes (composed by Celeste Oram), accompanying era-appropriate song and dance. It is Shakespeare; twisted, perhaps, but traditional in its interpretation and highly accessible in its language.

Working in the open air places huge demands on any actor and it will be no different for the talented ensemble of 16 assembled for this production. Having these challenges met is what gives the Outdoor Summer Shakespeare its unique place in Auckland’s theatre scene, as well as providing many aspiring young actors, directors and stagehands a platform from which to launch their careers.

Indeed, the Outdoor Summer Shakespeare has long been a breeding ground for some of the country’s top theatrical talent. Past players have included Lisa Harrow (who later performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company opposite Dame Judi Dench), ex-MP Richard Prebble, actor/director Oliver Driver andMichael Hursthimself.

Since its first production of Hamlet in 1963, AUSA’s Outdoor Summer Shakespeare has been a highlight of the Auckland theatre calendar. Do not miss the aligning of these stars – join the Bard, the lovers, the soldiers and the band as they walk out under the night sky to deliver Much Ado About Nothing.

Starring; Jess Bates, Chris Bryan, Alex MacDonald, Natalie Braid, Craig Serventy, Luke Thornborough.

Much Ado About Nothing plays
6th to 24th March 2012 (with Sundays and Mondays off) (3rd March opening was cancelled due to bad weather) 

The Universityof Auckland, University Clocktower Lawn
Tickets: $25 – $18

Bookings through Maidment Theatre (09) 308 2383 or

Running time: 7.30 to 10pm with a 15-min interval 

2hrs 30mins, incl. interval

Shakespeare very much at home in the post-war years

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 08th Mar 2012

Modernising the Bard can run into trouble if is driven by nothing more than a desire to make Shakespeare relevant – but by transposing Much Ado About Nothing to the fast and frivolous boom years of the late 1940s, director Sam Pascoe highlights the themes of the play without doing damage to the original text. 

Best known for the free-spirited, fiercely combative character of Beatrice, the play squarely addresses anxiety about changing gender roles in the Elizabethan era and this period of radical social change is revealingly echoed in the momentous cultural revolution that was set in motion by demobbed soldiers returning from World War II. [More]  


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Well-paced charmer

Review by Nik Smythe 07th Mar 2012

Behind the Auckland University campus clock tower, just around the corner from the usual spot, the 49th annual Auckland University Summer Shakespeare is a tightly directed little charmer, authentically liberal in interpretation and heavy on the comedy. 

It’s worth noting, if you will, that while the title is perfectly clear and adequate as read, in fact it refers to the original meanings of the word nothing (originally spelt ‘noting’), alluding to hearsay and the act of gossiping, as well as eavesdropping.

The action takes place predominantly in a tea-garden setting, against a stone wall with a charming stairway to a useful upper level, adorned with elegant furniture and classical ornaments and all set about with magnificent trees. 

The first most striking feature is a gazebo housing the euphonious 5 piece swing-jazz band (Eli Moore piano, Tristan Deck drums, Scott Kendall bass, Liz Stokes trumpet, Ben Sinclair clarinet), whose catchy rhythmic melodies set both the pace and the adopted post-war 1940s scene.

The scene opens with wistful maidens excitedly awaiting the return of their finest young men from the wars, which they shortly do to the beholden welcome of patriarchal governor Leonato (Kieran Maskell). 

Before long the two pairs of would-be lovers around whom all the ensuing ‘noting’ is centred, are established: ‘nice and pure’ couple, valorous Claudio and virtuous Hero (Alex MacDonald and Natalie Braid), and ‘nasty’ comedy couple ladies-man Benedick and own-woman Beatrice (Luke Thorborough and Jess Bates).

Thus two sets of conspirators set about to upset the status quo:  Leonato, with chief officer Don Pedro (Craig Serventy) and company, aiming to unite cocky ‘Casanova’ Benedick with the willfully unavailable Beatrice, whilst Don Pedro’s nasty piece of work of a bastard brother John (Lucy Smith) employs lackeys to destroy the incorruptible perfection of the love between Claudio and Hero, for no reason apparent beyond petty spite. 

As the sun sets over the course of the first hour, Brad Gledhill and Rachel Marlow’s lighting inconspicuously adds a sharper visual contrast, congruent to the play taking a darker turn when the pure and wholesome (though not above her own mischievous ‘noting’, in the plot to match Beatrice with Benedick) Hero is wrongfully condemned. 

While freely utilising many amusing asides not in the script, director Sam Pascoe provides strong, easy comprehension for the language of Shakespeare along with excellent comic timing both slapstick and screwball, not to mention a sharp eye for casting. 

All four lovers are perfectly appointed to their respective roles, as are Chris Bryan as the hilariously incompetent Constable Dogberry, Jeremy Brett as Dogberry’s outrageously inept partner in crime-fighting Verges, and Mo Kheir as a tragi-comically harried ancient watchman.

Serventy’s slightly lisping Don Pedro commends both respect and amusement, and I’m particularly impressed by Smith’s turn as stately, wheezing, dumpy, vindictive Don John, a kind of Churchill/Hitler hybrid. Alex Kirch also brings it as drunken scoundrel Borachio, and Pedro’s singing attendant Balthazar was never foxier or more sweetly sung than by Alexandra Clare, who joins with the band in a swinging 40s radio-single type rendition of the iconic ‘Hey Nonny-nonny’.

The considerable vocal skills of the cast are tested once or twice by cacophonous aircraft flying directly overhead, but overall the pace is brisk, without feeling hurried, and well pitched, neither drab nor histrionic.  Often in Shakespeare productions anachronistic settings can become a distracting kind of main feature, but here it works fine as a given circumstance without coming over all pretentious, thanks to the credible performances. 

Besides strong and engaging characterisation, the natural ease with which the cast deliver the centuries-old dialogue means only the barest amount of Shakespearean knowledge should be required for anyone to appreciate the majority of the play. 

All in all AUSA’s fresh, charming feel-good romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing is a more than worthy example of this historic institution, which rounds off its fifth decade next year.     


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