With so many recent productions suffering Covid-related cancellations, it was a delight to be able to enjoy Butterfly’s lively outdoor production of this much loved Shakespearean comedy. The venue for opening night, Stockade Park, was perfect, with players and audience comfortable in the early evening warmth.
Director Russell Slater brought us a spirited and entertaining production. It was preceded by a delightful selection of Mediaeval and other mood-setting songs by the duet Welkin Dance, Jodie O’Regan and Matthew Lykos. O’Regan also composed the incidental music which enlivened and illustrated the action during the performance of the main play.
This play, as with a number of other of Shakespeare’s comedies, is lightly comic, with the plot so improbable at times as to really challenge our suspension of disbelief. The masked ball device is an excellent example. In this case Slater’s direction, and the effective characterisation of the actors, easily overcame that problem.
In an evenly balanced ensemble there were number of fine individual performances and scenes. Both of the principal couples worked well. Thomas Tassone as Benedick and Kristen O’Dwyer as Beatrice were great foils for each other. They were well matched when stridently trading barbs, and equally convincing in their up-and-down reconciliation later in the play. They handled the feistiness with aplomb. Further, Tassone was particularly effective in his soliloquies.
Leah Lowe as Hero and Nick Kennett as Claudio were convincing lovers before the critical betrayal, and thereafter both showed their dramatic skills in dealing with their subsequent disenchantment with each other.
Nadia Talotta was the essence of sauciness and playfulness as Margaret, while Thomas Filsell, playing opposite her as Boraccio, combined a devilish raffishness early on, with an adolescent contrition after his guilt was uncovered.
John Rosen was a commanding presence as Don Pedro, carrying a sense of his importance into all his scenes. Steven Turner, as Leonarto, also showed his authority as the leader of his household and father of Hero. Their comic scene with Claudio, deliberately allowing their misleading conversation to be overheard by Dominick as he hid behind the tree, was very funny and most memorable.
Kate Anolak was splendid in both her roles. As Don John, in this production Don Pedro’s sister, she was articulately scheming and conniving in all her interactions. She contrasted that with a very funny knock-about characterisation of Dogberry, full of misunderstandings and malapropisms as it was. In that role she worked very well with Bronwyn Ruciak, who brought us an especially dim-witted, if oddly threatening Verges. Those scenes of low comedy were thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.
This was a delightful interpretation of the play and well worth seeing.
In faithful Mediaeval tradition, Butterfly’s travelling players and crew will complete the season in McLaren Vale and Willunga later in the month.