It was an enticing and fulfilling experience as a group of us from the IB Diploma Programme of TCSH made our way over to PJ Live Arts for a matinee show of Shakespeare's critically acclaimed Much Ado About Nothing, adapted by a small theatre group smartly known as The Handlebards; a handful of young, talented men who travelled all the way from England and through Asia to perform adaptions of Shakespeare's great works with nothing but the props they can bring along on their backs. More often than not, as in the case of this particular team, due to there being only four actors in their company, each cast member is required to play more than one role (or multiple roles at once!) in any given play. I find this extremely intriguing.
Despite being an avid visitor of the live arts scene, I had unfortunately never watched a Shakespeare play in my life before as I had always assumed his works to be to heavy and drab; that being said, The Handlebards made a lasting impression on me as they breathed new life into the old prose with their boundless energy and near comical take on what could've been a heavy, serious play. The use of old English, matched with an almost contemporary way of delivery, gave opportunity to the audience to understand the unfamiliar spoken word through gestures, facial expression and inflection.
Among the subjects I take in the IB are Theatre Studies and English Literature. That being said, looking at the play from the perspective of a theatre student, I particularly admired the ability of the actors to continuously switch from character to character at the cue of a ring of a bell, each character having distinctly different motives and mannerisms (despite being played by the exact same person); such acting skills would have most definitely required plenty of practice and training. Furthermore, in terms of the simplistic use of props, it went on to show that a production does not necessarily need to be all propped-up and fancy in order to carry the theatrical weightage and be very entertaining at the same time. Props only serve to add and enhance - they shouldn't be the centre of attention; The Handlebards successfully managed to make do with what little they gave so much more.
Another aspect of the play that I enjoyed from the perspective of a theatre student would be the use of a technique called "epic theatre" in the way the concept of 'audience alienation' is applied. In this technique, the fourth wall of the performance is broken down occasionally, thus ensuring that the audience does not practice escapism (which would have caused the audience to forget they were watching a play, thus disabling them from truly thinking). In this particular adaption of Much Ado About Nothing, this performing technique was used in the beginning of the play when the actors explained the storyline beforehand, and throughout the play when the characters interacted with the audience.
As an English Literature student, watching this adaption of such a popular play so widely studied within our field allowed me to witness literary components and devices come to life. Studying literature also gave me the necessary analytical skills to dissect and further understand the play. Upon observation, we can see that the actors managed to bring out the wit and smart within Shakespeare's prose, and such tones were distinct to me, despite not fully understanding the use of old English. Such tones can be observed in the exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice, whenever they have an exchange of choice words about how they can't possibly stand each other (which was evidently not true). Besides that, it can be said that this play perhaps deals with underlying themes of feminism and the oppression of women, which might be observed when we see how Hero's character is victimised in her pursuit of Claudio despite having good (though self-centred) intentions.
The light-hearted approach it had really did shed new light on the potential of Shakespeare's other works, and was a breath of fresh air to an otherwise old text. The humour and wit brought into the play was its selling point, and most definitely the reason why I enjoyed it so much; I look forward to not only exploring Shakespeare's works further, but to watch The Handlebard's again someday in the future!
About Hannah Christina
Hannah is a first year student with a passion in the subject of humanities. She aspires to pursue her degree in either law or political/social science. Follow her adventures as she reflects on her life as a student in International Baccalaureate Diploma programme at Taylor's College Sri Hartamas.