MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
New Vic Theatre, Thursday 14th February, 2019
This co-production between the New Vic and Northern Broadsides sets Shakespeare’s quintessential rom-com in post-war Britain, in the North Country. The war is just over and the country’s in a partying mood. And so Don Pedro and his entourage arrive at Leonato’s house, dressed in the uniforms of the period, while the womenfolk are dressed as land girls. The actor-musicians get us ‘in the mood’ with some Andrews Sisters harmonies and jazzy arrangements, courtesy of Rebekah Hughes.
Matt Rixon cuts an imposing yet avuncular figure as the fun-loving Pedro. In contrast is his brother, disgruntled and creepy Don John (Richard J Fletcher). Boyish Claudio (Linford Johnson) has set his sights on Leonato’s daughter Hero (Sarah Kameela Impey) but it is another couple, here played a little bit older, who steal our attention. Robin Simpson’s fast-talking Benedick is perfectly matched by Isobel Middleton’s classy, sassy Beatrice.
The plot comes to a head in a powerful church scene and what has been a delightful comedy up to now becomes searing drama. Director Conrad Nelson manages the change of tone expertly – so even if you know what’s coming, we share the shock of the characters. Claudio’s rejection of the supposedly unfaithful Hero, Leonato’s bitter shame at the public scandal, Hero’s stunned silence and heartfelt pleas of innocence… It’s cracking, eye-watering stuff and having proved themselves deft with witty comedy, the cast come into there own with the more emotional stuff. Special mention here to Simeon Truby for his devastated Leonato. And there’s more to comeL Beatrice and Benedick, alone together for the first time since they have been tricked into believing they are in love with each other, swap declarations and promises. Suddenly, it’s life and death stuff. It’s dizzying writing from old Shakespeare, and it’s played to the hilt.
The problems of the witty elite are solved by the hapless intervention of an underclass, the local Watch, whose bumbling makes Dad’s Army look like a crack unit. Their leader Dogberry (David Nellist) mangles the language with malapropisms, while Anthony Hunt’s spiv of a Borachio makes a convincing transition from bragging to repenting.
Choreography by Beverly Norris-Edmunds keeps the party atmosphere going, with energetic period moves, and there is some lovely a capella singing at key points. Sigh No More, Ladies works excellently as a bit of barbershop quartet.
This is a wonderful feelgood production that also puts us through an emotional wringer. Performed by a superlative company, directed in a manner that maximises the comic and the dramatic elements, and serving as a testament to Shakespeare’s genius, this is a Much Ado to savour.
I loved it.
Isobel Middleton as Beatrice (Photo: Nobby Clark)
Leave a comment | tags: Beverly Norris-Edmunds, Conrad Nelson, Isobel Middleton, Linford Johnson, Matt Rixon, Much Ado About Nothing, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Northern Broadsides, Rebekah Hughes, review, Richard J Fletcher, Robin Simpson, Sarah Kameela Impey, Simeon Truby, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review
Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 9th October, 2017
I don’t know how many times I have seen this show but I am always glad of the chance to see it again. This latest tour does not disappoint in any department – which is what you hope for, of course – but yet again I am struck by the genius of the material. Based on a film of the same name by the self-appointed Pope of Trash, John Waters, this is more than the story of a determined, chubby girl to get herself dancing on a TV show; it is a microcosm of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and also, for our times, a fable that reminds us that different can be beautiful. Yes, it’s a feel-good musical, there’s no getting away from that, but the social commentary packs a punch that goes beyond its historical relevance. Look at the news and see right-wing morons behaving despicably in the USA today and you’ll see that abhorrent (and stupid) attitudes are still prevalent along with institutionalised racism – TV producer and the show’s villain, Velma would no doubt be a Trump supporter.
Making her professional debut, Rebecca Mendoza is superb as the irrepressible Tracy Turnblad, a veritable dynamo full of heart and energy. Mendoza also brings out Tracy’s inherent sense of humour and her vocal stylings are impeccable. Similarly, Edward Chitticks makes his Link Larkin more than a shallow Elvis wannabe – although he undoubtedly has all the moves. Jon Tsouras is both sharp and smooth as TV host Corny Collins. Brenda Edwards brings the house down as the sassy, brassy Motormouth Maybelle – her anthemic I Know Where I’ve Been gives goosebumps. Layton Williams makes for a sinuous, sinewy Seaweed – Drew McOnie’s choreography certainly allows him to shine – while Annalise Liard-Bailey’s geeky Penny Pingleton is a pleasure. Aimee Moore is particularly good as mean girl Amber Von Tussle while Gina Murray is marvellous as her mean-spirited mother. Monifa James impresses as Little Inez and there is much to enjoy from Graham Macduff and Tracey Penn in a variety of pop-up roles, including the TV sponsor and a crude prison guard.
Inevitably perhaps, the showstoppers are Tracy’s parents, Wilbur and Edna – fellow Dudley boy Norman Pace and Matt Rixon. Veteran star Pace shows no signs of waning and Rixon is pitch perfect in a role that is much more than a pantomime dame. Edna’s journey from the ironing board to national television is truly life-affirming, and Rixon makes the most of the humour and the underlying pathos of the part.
The main players are supported by an indefatigable chorus of singing, dancing marvels and a tireless band under the baton of musical director Ben Atkinson. Paul Kerryson’s direction keeps the fun factor high – you can’t help having a great time.
Marc Shaiman’s score has no filler and the lyrics, co-written with Scott Whittman, remain witty and sophisticated. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book retains enough of the Pope of Trash’s acerbic spirit to keep the whole from becoming saccharine sweet.
Everyone is on their feet for the irresistible finale, blown away and exhilarated by the energy and talent exuding from the stage. Hairspray retains its hold on me and while I’m uplifted by this fine production, I am saddened to realise that in these backward-facing times we need to heed its message just as much as we ever did.
Good morning, Birmingham! Rebecca Mendoza IS Tracy Turnblad
Leave a comment | tags: Aimee Moore, Annalise Liard-Bailey, Ben Atkinson, Brenda Edwards, Edward Chitticks, Gina Murray, Graham Macduff, Hairspray, John Waters, Jon Tsouras, Layton Williams, Marc Shaiman, Mark O'Donnell, Matt Rixon, Monifa James, Norman Pace, Paul Kerryson, Rebecca Mendoza, Scott Whittman, Thomas Meehan, Tracey Penn | posted in Theatre Review