I don't believe there can be a better way to spend a very chilly January evening than to bask in the warmth of one of Shakespeare's greatest comedies, performed by the “blithe and bonny" Studio Theatre Club. The play is a jovial romp through a brief chapter in the lives of two pairs of would-be lovers, beginning when an army of soldiers return home from battle. Claudio, a naïve and amiable fellow is subjected to a vicious plot designed to mar his lady Hero's honour under the orchestration of Don John, the illegitimate brother of the heir to the kingdom, Don Pedro. Benedick and Beatrice parry amusing, but often spiteful witticisms; while simultaneously falling for a far less sinister trick.
Directed by Philip Shepherd, this colourful production pulls the audience into a sea of eye catching 1920s flapper-style dresses, and a variety of smart uniforms. There are songs set by Dan Booth, including the iconic verses of 'Sigh no more, ladies', led proficiently by Amy Capener as Balthazar and her band of three minstrels. Lively dancing and a merry masquerade follow, along with some purposefully grasped opportunities for the actors to use their asides to ingratiate themselves with the audience to humorous effect.
Stand out performances were given throughout by Mike MacDonald as Leonato the town Governor, Jon Shepherd as Master Constable Dogberry, and Matt Kirk as Antonio. All three of these characters are portrayed with an emphasis on actions and physical comedy to skilfully draw big laughs from the audience. Dogberry is aided by his gang of Watch Offices and an entertaining Verges, delivered by Holly Bathie. Together the team take on an almost Monty Pythonesque quality when spying on, and interrogating the convincingly slick drunkard Borachio and pompous Conrade (played by Tom Fenton and Matt Fyfield respectively).
The cast noticeably warmed into their roles as the show progressed, perhaps suffering with opening night nerves. Clarity of projection suffered at times, largely due to the actors inadvertently rushing their lines. However, Rory Morrison's Claudio, and Kat Steiner's Hero were adorably complementary, donning matching pairs of glasses for their emotive performances. Their relationship contrasted highly with that of the witty 'prince's fool' Benedick (Charlie Vicary), who delighted in trading verbal blows with Debs McKenna's Beatrice. Vicary shone while in monologue, and McKenna's reactions were inspired when being tricked by Margaret and Ursula (during a moment of particularly ingenious scenography). Jamie Crowther conveyed a loyal Don Pedro conflicting with his scheming, melancholic brother Don John (Stephen Briggs); a man of few words, but each one delivered with deliberate and considered derision.
I am confident this production will go from strength to strength as the run continues, so much so that I have booked to watch it again on Saturday night! As I write, tickets for Friday evening have already sold out and all other performances from Thursday the 26th through to Saturday 28th January are being snapped up very quickly. 'Hey, nonny, nonny!'