It helped that they were playing to their – and their location’s – strengths. Much Ado About Nothing is a summer fun comedy with plenty of opportunity for music and dancing, and thus exactly the sort of thing the company does very well indeed. In the airy, open space of the castle the choice of a Spanish backdrop to the action made total sense (although it would be a brave director who went for 12th century Finland), as well as allowing for some hot quasi-flamenco dance numbers from the cast, and some very slightly over-obtrusive guitar music (one of the speakers was placed, rather unfortunately, directly behind us).
It’s the firecracker combination of Benedick and Beatrice that forms the heart of the play, and this version did not disappoint. Nicholas Osmond played Benedick with a rangy, gurning comic energy, while Lizzie Hopley (who, it should be mentioned, will be replaced by another actress in July) huffed mightly as Beatrice. Both were admirably willing to make themselves look like idiots in the service of their art, and Charlotte Conquest directed them with an excellent ear, and eye, for their sparkling dialogue, giving them bits of physical business that enhanced the verbal comedy. Even better, both of them managed the difficult task of remaining convincing during their two astonishing reversals of character – they were as interesting to watch love-struck and grief-stricken as they were in their earlier sparring.
Having mentioned the two leads, however, it should be noted that what’s really impressive here is the ensemble playing. This is a cast that gels, and their warm, relaxed rapport onstage speaks of an admirable lack of the sort of conflicting egos that can sometimes make even the most professional productions rather tense to watch. They were enjoying themselves, and as a consequence so were we.