Every rom com needs an origin story. And who better to look to than Shakespeare? 

The seeds of many familiar tales played out on popular page and screen can be found in Much Ado About Nothing, a two-way love story beset by scheming, misunderstanding, a particularly uncomfortable bout of slut-shaming and ending (surely the statute of limitations on spoilers has passed for a four hundred year old play) with a double wedding. 

Hawke’s Bay Youth Theatre (HaBYT) have a fine and well-deserved reputation as creating some of the best productions in the region, regardless of the budding years of the school-aged actors. Despite the lingering shadow of Covid disrupting regular, well attended rehearsals, Much Ado About Nothing lives up to the hype. 

Perhaps in response to the pervading cloud of gloom the current zeitgeist invites, they have chosen a very different offering to last year’s Aprils Fool, a harrowing account of the final days of a young man from a drug overdose, told verbatim in the words of his loved ones. By contrast, Much Ado About Nothing is light, and in their hands, aided by some really clever physical theatre, genuinely funny, much more so than the star-studded early 90’s Kenneth Brannagh movie version. 

Directors Peter Cottrell and Jandrya Maciel do an excellent job of coaxing stellar performances from their talented team of young people. These rangatahi possess the stage and inhabit their characters wholeheartedly in an engaging manner that is a delight to watch. Every single young actor plays their part with conviction, and all are obviously having fun. 

Rather than go full Elizabethan, HaBYT retain the Shakespearean language but set this piece in the seventies, undoubtedly an era of the amorphous distant past long before any of the actors, and indeed some of their parents, were born. Angela Elliott’s costuming is exquisite, the finest vintage pieces in an autumnal colour palette echoed in the carpet of leaves scattered across the traverse stage. Popular seventies music and some finely choreographed disco dancing, courtesy of Maciel, complete the aesthetic.

HaBYT provides a space for rangatahi of a thespian bent to develop and grow into fine performers they hope will take wings and fly to great things far beyond the region. Many of their alumni go on to professional careers in theatre, and it’s easy to see why. 

I have full confidence that in years to come we will look to the great stage and silver screen and remember fondly when we saw them perform their hearts out in a tiny black box theatre in the Havelock Hills.

Much Ado About Nothing plays for two more nights at Keirunga Theatre, but if you’re not in already then you’re too late because this is a sell-out show.

Photos: Angela Elliott

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