Much Ado About Nothing : Toby Schmitz

John Bell, the “Bell” in Bell Shakespeare, loves to bugger around with the tone and setting of William’s work but thankfully his fingerprints are more subtle this time around. This production of Much Ado About Nothingis set in the post-war sunny glow of 1950s Sicily and other than that it seems he has left the rest up to the words greatest playwright, and why wouldn’t you? To get you up to speed on the shenanigans – Claudio and Hero are lovers and wouldn’t you know it Claudio has been fooled into believing Hero has been unfaithful. During the subplot, audiences meet Beatrice, played by Blazey Best, and Benedick (Toby Schmitz), who are in denial about their love for each other, which of course leads to some more shenanigans and even a few hijinks.

Toby Schmitz is one of those stupidly handsome and charming theatre personalities, NIDA grad, a writer and director as well as actor. “As soon as I am unemployed I start putting stuff on,” he says in explanation of his multi-hyphenated resume. “I have wanted to work with Bell since I was a kid really, so I am pretty chuffed, it’s great. Rehearsal was a fun process; it was a very open room and we have such a special cast; Bell has gathered a lot of really fun people. The set is like a big games room, in a villa somewhere off in the Italian countryside, so it was literally in our rehearsal room there was a billiard table, a dartboard and a basketball hoop. It was a mad rush to see who got to play badminton first.”

Ah yes, updating the show. “It solves a few things in the play and it also highlights a few others,” Toby enthuses. “First and foremost it’s nice to look at – 1950s kind of frocks look nice. I don’t think you actually want it set in Elizabethan England; so updating it isn’t a radical thing. But setting it in ‘50s Sicily, you can still believe that men are going to duel with each other and a father is going to tell his daughter to fuck off and die just because she slept with someone; all that sort of stuff still holds water. The patriarchal, misogynistic stuff that goes on with the Italian men in Much Ado – post-war Italian soldiers being course and cold, it makes sense. But it updates so that Beatrice is a genuine 20th Century woman, which helps the themes.”

“My first experience of it was definitely the Ken Branagh film in the early ‘90s,” Schmitz continues, “which I think does a lot of things right. There is some weird casting going on in there – Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton are notable mistakes – still it achieves a lot of warmth and sexiness and comedy. But I have never seen a production of it ‘til now! And being in this show is amazing. It is spreading goodwill and mirth, joie de vivre and all that sort of stuff. Without sounding too wanky, it is genuinely a great feeling; a buzz.”

It’s not just the director and writer making Schmitz so happy, but also the large cast he gets to play with. “There are 15 of us. Blazey Best (who is an old friend of mine) is playing Beatrice [his character’s love interest], which is great. We already have that familiar chemistry! Max Gillies is playing Dogberry [the comic relief from the main plot] and he is far superseding Michael Keaton.”

“The play is getting better and better, more complex, and more sophiscated, more funny and sad, sexier every night,” he concludes.