Much Ado About Nothing
Wadham College Gardens, July-August 2002

  After ten years of some of the best outdoor Shakespeare seen in Oxford, Bold & Saucy have reinvented themselves as The Oxford Shakespeare Company. No need to worry, though; they've not lost their touch for uncluttered staging, approachable performances and supremely natural acting. They're also still in Wadham College Gardens, scaring pigeons and risking rain; but with blankets to hire and the seats set in an umbrella-friendly single row, you needn't fear the weather. There's even a brief retreat to the college chapel to warm your hands on the candles.

Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's comedy of love, arguments and slander, starts happy in its garden staging, with dancing, croquet, and the risk of being pulled into the action as the audience stands in for courtiers and hedges, and the villains swirl their coats and flex their leather trousers. Ian Cairns (Don Pedro) and Sarah Goddard (Beatrice) are especially in their element, caught out as their runaway wit stumbles into serious issues; while Geoffrey Towers (a rather put-upon Leonato) and Charlotte Windmill (Hero) start restrained, but quickly warm to their roles as gleeful co-conspirators. By contrast, Ross Mcdonald makes a rather blustering Benedick, the easy gull of his friends' jokes. But when the tone changes, in a heart-rending wedding scene wrapped in terrifying echoes, he really comes into his own; honourable friend, faithful lover, defender of virtue. For all his protestations, sincerity suits him perfectly. The clowns (the entire cast quick-changed into a muddle of uniforms, daft wigs and ad-libs) provide much-needed relief as the story becomes bleaker, but nothing can keep this performance down for long. A confession from the slyly excellent Julian Blundell and a run-in with a pair of uncooperative handcuffs, and they're dancing and happy again, because for tonight, at least, they are the only love-gods!

Jeremy Dennis, 09.07.02