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Much Ado About Nothing
Published on Thursday, 26 May 2011

5 stars

St Ann's Well Gardens
12-15, 18-20, 22, 25-29 May, 7:00pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

This superlative performance would rank high on a list of ‘best open-air Shakespeare ever’. It is inventive, up-to-date, very well-performed and funny; the cast are so at ease with their lines that the Elizabethan language did not appear to alienate even the youngest members of the crowd, sat on the grass watching.

Set within the walled garden of St Ann’s Wells, with a relatively small centre stage – little more than an aisle between groups of picnicking punters – the actors enter from all sides, emerging from behind tress to pick their way across the grass and through the spectators. The actors might be forgiven if this became a little haphazard, but in a testament to this accomplished production, their timing was generally excellent and a ready pace was maintained throughout the regular changes of scene. Often arriving in musical procession, the troupe uses the trail to the stage to their advantage, commanding and maintaining their audience’s attention.

The messenger at the beginning of Scene One arrives by moped – a surprise, and at first confusing as to whether the play actually starting.  It prepares the way for a wonderful interpretation of the script, with a distinct 1960s flavour. Messina’s inhabitants are as fashionable as Milan’s: the women turned heads, dressed in smart black and white shift dresses with long white gloves, and with hairstyles evocative of Audrey Hepburn. There was a Mafia-esque flavour to the men’s suits and demeanour, which also worked very well. Hero’s wedding hat, like an upturned lampshade covered in paper roses, is to die for!

What makes this performance stand out is the ease with which the company turns this eclectic mix of Italian fashion, mafia and 1960s mods into a watchable show which is by no means a panto or a parody – yet at the same time delivers the script, without losing the fact that this is, after all, Shakespeare. It isn’t clear how they pulled this off, but they did, and marvellously.

Alongside the dubious intrigue of the plot against Hero’s marriage, there is plenty of the fun which is to be expected – bushes around St Ann’s Wells Gardens come in as handy props. Bawdy humour is left to make its own impression and not delivered ‘for laughs’. There is an ease about the whole performance which enables the audience to be engrossed – even when night has fallen and there is more than a little chill in the air, the show goes on: so everyone stays, wrapped up in blankets, amused to the end.

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