Troops wage war of sexes
Troops wage war of sexes

Shakespeare's comic battle-of-the sexes Much Ado About Nothing has taken many guises over the centuries.

Locally, Black Swan State Theatre Company's 2009 production transmogrified 16th century Messina into a contemporary autumnal Margaret River estate in the much-loved tale of romance, betrayal and scandal among the upper classes. In 2004, for Shakespeare in the Park, the now-defunct Deckchair Theatre presented the house of Governor Leonato as a 1930s country club.

The latest summer outdoor season in Kings Park will be set locally in WA at the end of World War II as Shakespeare meets Dad's Army.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare's greatest romps. It pitches a group of triumphant returned soldiers against the romantic charms of the women they encounter on their return from the battlefield.

The young warrior Claudio falls for the beautiful Hero, while the prickly wit Benedick swaps barbs with Beatrice. Some scoundrels conspire to complicate the path to happily-ever-

after love against the background bumbling of the Home Guard.

"There is the whole subplot of the incompetent constables who are not really an official constabulary, more a rag-tag bunch of volunteers," Shakespeare WA director Paige Newmark says.

"It jumped out how like Dad's Army (the popular 1970s BBC sitcom) that is, the people who didn't go off to war for some reason - too old, too young, too female, too ill or too stupid," Newmark says. "These characters are very much in that realm. In some ways Shakespeare prefigured the characters in Dad's Army so it is a very smooth, easy and recognisable equivalent for the audience."

The cast is headed by Scottish actress Hannah Day as Beatrice and David Davies, who returns to Perth to play Benedick after working with the Bell Shakespeare Company and running his own GB Shakespeare Company in the UK.

Shakespeare in the Park favourite Sam Longley will provide the comic tomfoolery of Dogberry with other cast members including Stephen Lee, Sean Walsh, James Hagan and Nick Maclaine.

As in past years, the production is designed to appeal to both the classical theatre market and Shakespeare-newcomers alike, Newmark says.

He is not concerned about staging Much Ado About Nothing just a few years after Black Swan's 2009 production. "I don't know how much cross-fertilisation we have with their audience. A lot of people who come to the park not only never see Shakespeare, they never see theatre for the rest of the year. We exist in a unique segment of the theatre-going community. We bring people to the theatre that other people don't."

This season, one performance will have an Auslan interpreter and another will be audio-described for the visually impaired.

Much Ado About Nothing is at the Kings Park and Botanic Garden from January 4 to February 2, except Sundays and Australia Day. Details and tickets: ShakespeareWA.com.

The West Australian

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