It's always a leap of faith for both companies and audiences, when they offer up an open-air performance to the challenges of an english summer. Tuesday night was not well served by the weather, with almost constant fine rain soaking audience and performers alike in the old Bod quad. So it was remarkable how few seats were abandoned after the interval - and that's because people were totally captivated by the play.
The lead roles in particular were truly excellent, looking very comfortable in their skins. Everyone on the stage really seemed to enjoy being there, despite less than ideal conditions, and all were very adept at using the unexpectedly good acoustics of the space - it's not often that an open-air play has the advantage of such a resonant soundstage.
The production transports us back to Sicily in 1958; which allows the harsh and asymmetrical morality to feel not too anachronistic in modern dress, but even so the false-start wedding scene was really quite difficult to watch - which it probably should be. Benedick's subsequent anger and hurt against Claudio felt completely genuine (Jordan Waller, and Jeremy Neumark-Jones), Beatrice (Ruby Thomas) turns quickly from self-assurance and sharp wit towards grief and vengeance, while William Hatcher as Leonato was a convincing, rather hard-edged 'Godfather'.
I'll confess that I'm more of a King Lear man really; I don't often engage very well with the Shakespeare comedies. But there were some richly comic moments that completely won me over in this performance, with Benedick and Beatrice's eavesdropping scenes played cleverly and visually for maximum laughs. Rhys Bevan as Dogberry the night watchman appears rather unusually, not as a self-important buffoon, but simply an honest fool with an astounding lack of self-knowledge, and all the more effective for that.
There was some excellent choreography in evidence too, with convincing celebratory dancing which was impressive (Jessica Norman's Hero and Jeremy Neumark-Jones' Claudio were the couple to watch!): It was Connie Francis' rendition (I think) of Everybody's Somebody's Fool that accompanied the last dance, which fit the context rather well.
But right at the end as is required of the play, we are given a couple of brief, subtle reminders that not everything is rosy: the sound of gunshots, and the darker presence of the enforcers and lawmakers watching over the younger people in their celebration. Things work out okay in the end, but only within the bounds of some strict and unforgiving rules.
This is the OUDS company of course, so we can expect to see many of the performers on stage and screen in the future: many of the players are at the end of their time at Oxford so may not appear in student productions henceforth. I'm quite sure that Ruby Thomas as Beatrice and Jordan Waller as Benedick are among the actors we'll get to see again.
And so homewards - sodden but well satisfied by an enthusiastic, entertaining and finely handled production, which (be warned) only has a few more days in Oxford (under much clearer skies, we are told!) - after which it tours to Stratford, London, Gulldford and Japan.
ndaisley (DI Reviewer), 08/08/12
Ads by Daily Info:
Browse ads by tag:
Photos by Lucinda Cameron
Review of the Day