Outdoor stagings of Shakespeare have become something of an
Much Ado About Nothing is almost algorithmic in its incorporation of all the classic Shakesperean elements; mistaken identity, vindictive interfamilial rivalry, faked death, enemies-turned-lovers, and, of course, the agonies and ecstasies of courtship are all present and correct. As such, it is a great play to allow up and coming actors to cut their teeth - and some serious talent shines through in this production.
The two will-they won’t-they couples at the heart of the story - Hero, Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick - are particularly strong. The flirtatious negging war between Beatrice (Beth Burns) and Benedick (Connor Fox) is a delight, with as much conveyed through the characters’ contemptuous, disdainful and incredulous glances as through the withering “terminations” and “impossible slanders” themselves. And Fox’s versatility is made plain by his convincing transformations, first from swaggering and cynical Jack-the-lad to bumbling, love-stricken idiot, and then again to determined and righteous righter of wrongs.
The metamorphosis of Claudio (Christian Peterson), meanwhile, is positively visceral, his face itself seeming to alter before our very eyes as he moves from sappy naiveté through bitter anguish to chastened integrity. It is almost as if, in the space of two hours, we have witnessed his physical evolution from boy to man.
Great comedic verve is also much in evidence throughout. The scene in which Benedick eavesdrops on Claudio, Don Pedro and Leonarto is jaw-achingly funny, verging on slapstick in its staging and delivery, and there is also some fine comic acting from Joseph Hartshorn (Dogberry) and sidekick Hannah Hayes (Verges). These two characters (apparently modelled, I learnt from Tom McDonnell’s excellent book on Shakespeare’s Oxford connections, Sweet Wittie Souls, on two real life dim-witted constables with whom the bard had a run in, in nearby Grendon Underwood) provide the comic relief once the play starts to get heavy, and are perfectly cast. Hayes manages, with much physical and facial ingenuity, to lever a wealth of humour far beyond her meagre allotment of lines, whilst Hartshorn proves a most worthy jester, thoroughly adept in the arts of doltish arse-dom.
A 'fantastical banquet' of a performance indeed!