MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Jephson Gardens, Leamington, Thursday 7th June, 2018
This version from the aptly named (for this play) Heartbreak Productions sets Shakespeare’s supreme rom-com at a village garden fete as the Great War draws to a close – also apt in this centenary year of the end of that conflict. A quintet of villagers is staging the play to raise money for the Red Cross and the action begins with a scene of them bickering as they set things up. So, as well as playing two or three (or even four) of the Shakespearean roles, there is this additional layer. For the most part, this framing device works very well, but when the action is interrupted for the first time for a protracted argument between the girl playing Hero and the girl playing Beatrice, which includes audience participation, the flow of the main event is stalled. Other instances later on, when they are changing the simple scenery, work better as interjections, reminding us of the conceit.
Director Paul Chesterton keeps things moving apace, adding plenty of physical comedy to this wordy, witty piece; his cast have a snappy delivery, differentiating the characters with a range of accents, rendering this version of Messina a microcosm of Britain! Shaun Miller’s affable, Scots Benedick is a strong foil for Bryony Tebbutt’s fiery, trouser-sporting Beatrice, which is contrasted nicely with one of her other roles as the pompous, malapropism-dropping Dogberry. Faye Lord is an appealing Hero to George Naylor’s remarkable Claudio – Naylor brings out the fun and humour of Claudio, (before events take their dramatic turn, that is, changing the prevailing mood from fun to heartbreak) and during the wedding scene, which is handled magnificently by all, plays the angry bridegroom with power and conviction. Man of the match though is Ashleigh Aston playing Leonato, Don John (here Countess Joan) and Don Pedro. She also manages a turn as a hilarious watchman.
The adaptation, with a few cuts here and a few re-attributed lines there, keeps all the action and intrigue intact, placing an emphasis on rumour and misinformation. There’s only a couple of instances when it feels like they’re spreading themselves thin – needs must, I suppose.
Above all, the wit, charm and intensity of the Shakespeare comes through, despite the odd splash of drizzle and the noise of the church bells and the ducks flying overhead. It’s an entertaining and pleasant way to pass a summer’s evening, with an engaging cast and one of the bard’s most delightful works.