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.

The post-war era is stylishly evoked by Celeste Oram's excellent musical score which has a very sharp jazz quintet performing in period style, while vocalist Alexandra Clare, in the character of Balthasar, delivers a swinging rendition of Sigh No More that engagingly captures the mood of the piece and makes Shakespeare's "hey nonny nonny" chorus sound exquisitely cool.

The lead roles are solidly handled and the show sparkles whenever the reluctant lovers Benedick and Beatrice take centre stage.


Jess Bates convincingly plays Beatrice as an upper class eccentric thumbing her nose at authority and hints at the insecurities lurking beneath her feisty exterior by bringing a slightly manic nervous energy to the role.

Luke Thornborough's Benedick is an absolute triumph. With the clipped diction and no-nonsense demeanour of a British Naval Officer, he brings a wonderfully robust irony to his contemptuous dismissal of all romantic sentiment and brilliantly carries off the awkward transformation when he falls head-over-heels in love.

Sam Pascoe's staging works well in the big set pieces, though the comedy of the night watch was straining for effect with some heavy handed allusions to Dad's Army.

The outdoor setting, amid the beautifully planted university gardens, is subject to the vagaries of Auckland's weather but if you are lucky enough to strike a fine evening you can be assured of an enchanting entertainment.

What: Much Ado About Nothing - Summer Shakespeare.
Where: Auckland University clock tower lawn, to March 24.