Theatre | Salute to Shakespeare | Ken Longworth

OUTDOOR SETTING: Karen Lantry as Dogberry in Upstage Theatre's production of Much Ado About Nothing.

OUTDOOR SETTING: Karen Lantry as Dogberry in Upstage Theatre's production of Much Ado About Nothing.

WHEN Andrew Coates was growing up in Morpeth he was impressed by the military costumes resident Tracey Rose Sparke put together for people participating in Anzac Day ceremonies.

So when he and wife Ann Croger, the founders of Maitland’s Upstage Theatre, decided to stage this year Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, which has a wartime setting, he contacted Sparke, who now lives on the Gold Coast and has a company there, Sparke Films, for advice about costuming. Their Much Ado About Nothing is being staged in an outdoor setting at Maddie’s of Bolwarra from November 9 to 18.

Coates, who is directing the play, was delighted when Sparke told him she would lend them some of the military wear she had made for films. And Sandy Earle, the co-ordinator of Maitland’s Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles, is letting them use original 1940s dresses from the museum’s collection.

Upstage have set the story in Britain in World War II, a time when women took on roles that would normally have been done by men, such as night watches, because so many of the menfolk were in the armed forces. As Andrew Coates notes, this enables some of the play’s male roles, such as Dogberry, a constable in charge of a town’s night watch, to be played by women. Other characters whose sex has been changed include Don John, the manipulative brother of a prince, Don Pedro, who has become Countess Joan.

The story of Much Ado About Nothing is set in and around a city where triumphant soldiers are returning from a battle to celebrate. It shows them developing relationships with women, including Beatrice, the niece of a governor, who is trying to give a cold shoulder to her wooer, Benedick, and Hero, the governor’s shy daughter, who is attracted to Benedick’s friend, Claudio. The many amusing scenes include a masked ball where some people are mistaken for others and have to listen to sharply worded comments about the persons they really are.

As the story increasingly takes place in outdoor settings, Upstage Theatre is staging it mainly in the garden at Maddie’s. 

The cast includes Ann Croger as Beatrice, Tony Anthony as Benedick, Matthew Bailey as Claudio, Katy Avery as Hero, Tim Moran as Don Pedro, Jess Rose as Countess Joan, and Karen Lantry as Dogberry, plus Matt Heys, Robert Moore, Dominic Moore, Tim Mallon, Alicia Osland, Sophia Derkenne, Sybylla Coates, Lilian Bischoff and Milla Kime.

The show starts at 8pm on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights of the two weeks. Gates open at 7pm. Maddie’s is at 35 Paterson Road, Bolwarra. Tickets: $30, conc $25; trybooking.com.