MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford Castle, Thursday 2nd July, 2015
Shakespeare’s finest and funniest rom-com comes to Stafford Castle in this new production directed by Peter Rowe. While the cast sings music hall songs, we find the set and the setting rather striking. Dawn Allsopp’s elegant stage, with trimmed lawns and a classical pavilion is bedecked with union flag bunting – to celebrate the return of the troops from the War. Behind and above this is the ruined castle, adding to the sense of England gone by (even though the play is nominally set in Messina).
Any Much Ado is only as good as its Beatrice and Benedick. In this one they are a mature couple: imagine Caroline Quentin and Boris Karloff – that’s a bit harsh, perhaps. Philip Bretherton’s Benedick is not so much a silver as an arctic fox and a bit stern, while Sherry Baines’s Beatrice is a little bit matronly. The pair are none the less witty for all this and it makes sense. They have spent their lives avoiding and railing against marriage and only come to find each other late in life: it adds poignancy to Beatrice’s lines about everyone else getting married but her and shows that love can keep us all young at heart. You can’t help but like them.
Tom Palmer is a tall and dashing Claudio, capricious but not without conviction. He is especially good in the wedding scene and so is his intended Hero (Catherine Lamb). In fact, it’s the best scene of the night: Peter Rowe delivers the surprise and the tension. He could make more of the comic eavesdropping scenes, nicely played though they are. Edward York’s Leonato is delightfully hopeless at deception and yet heart-breaking when denouncing his daughter. Jake Ferretti’s Don Pedro is full of fun, in marked contrast to his whining petulant brother, Don John – the villain of the piece (Jon Trenchard).
Phylip Harries is a Welsh Dogberry and a very funny one. The scene in which he instructs the watchmen is glorious nonsense, a forerunner of the ‘awkward squad’ we still see in pantomimes today – and it’s gratifying to hear Shakespeare’s lines still getting laughs. They could do with another one or two men though, to flesh things out.
James Hague sings sweetly as Balthasar in a lovely version of Sigh No More, Ladies. As Don John’s henchmen, Dan de Cruz’s cheeky chappie Borachio makes a strong contrast with Charlie Tighe’s Conrade.
This is a satisfying production, not exactly innovative (but then, why tinker just for the sake of it?) and offers much to enjoy.