Returning to Oxford for the first time since 2005, the Royal Air Force Theatrical Association this year bring the Oxford Garden Shakespeare indoors to the Old Fire Station, with the dedication and professionalism of the armed forces and a huge amount of fun.
Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps one of the Bard’s greatest comedies. Double crossing, deception and bumbling law enforcers, teamed with enviable costumes in this 1920s-set production and camped-up musical numbers all made for a great show.
Set in a stylish newspaper-leaved garden, this is an altogether British affair, more Downton Abbey than Jay Gatsby. The simple set is used to great effect in as small space, never feeling cramped, despite a cast of 25! This allows the performances to come to the fore, and there are some excellent ones to enjoy.
Caroline Seraille as quick and stubborn Beatrice was brash and confident with excellent comic timing. With a gift of a part that is Beatrice, she was clearly relishing every one-liner and banterous exchange, without depriving the audience of any of it. Stephen Artus as panto villain and all round creeper Don John seemed to be channelling every screen role of Alan Rickman’s, brilliantly horrible in leather gloves and a slicked-down Hilter side parting. Philip Goudal as Benedick, however, completely steals the show. A very fine actor, every bit of pride, wit and love-sick lameness is convincingly traversed, providing the lion’s share of the laughs to boot.
With other notable performances put in by former Flying Officer Robert Iles as hilariously inept night warden Dogberry, and retired Group Captain Rob Tripp as patriarchal Leonato, this is an accomplished cast. Rehearsed over a year of month apart rehearsal time Alison Kirkwood and Richard Bratley have pulled of a daunting task with thoroughly enjoyable results. We can only hope it's not another 8 years before RAFTA’s Oxford return.