Much Ado About Nothing at the Lauderdale House Tea Lawn
At the crest of Highgate Hill, fringing the tranquil Waterlow Park, late summer is paying witness to a fine production of one of the Bard’s greatest comedies. Shooting Stars Theatre Company’s Much Ado About Nothing is a performance set in contemporary circumstance, with certain subtle updates helping to make this a refreshing take on a much-loved romantic comedy. Director Helen Crosse has intuitively synthesised a young and talented cast, with a unique and atmospheric venue – the Lauderdale House Tea Lawn – to create a confident, inventive and engaging play.
The contemporary spirit of the production is made immediately clear, as Don Pedro’s (Garry Mannion) squaddies return from Afghanistan, ambling into the garden whilst singing Jerusalem. The middle-class family of Leonato (Stewart Marquis) are first encountered at a raucous summer party, where the love-struck pair of Claudio (Joe Sargent) and Hero (Emily-Grace Hyland) meet. Throughout the play, the entire cast manage to unite in maintaining a fruity comic synergy. The gentle jester-like Benedick (Michael Totton), and the witty and pugnacious Beatrice (Tabitha Becker-Kahn) imbue the play with strong leads, and uproarious laughter ensues when they are both tricked into believing each other’s genuine affection for one another. The play is naturally replete with comedic spirit, and complementing the comic leads are the bumbling Dogberry (Graham Dron) and the hapless Verges (Peter Steele), whose antics in the court case against Borrachio (Lewis Richardson) and Conrade (Hayley-Emma Otway) provide a memorable tour de force in theatrical farce. The play does still manage to stay grounded, with the sinister villain Don John (James Clifford) providing a subtle antagonist.
The Lauderdale House Tea Lawn makes for the most atmospheric of venues. Theatre is at its best when performed in the open air – as the wooden o itself can testify – yet the bucolic surroundings of the house make for an enthralling stage. On an evening in late August, the production was always challenging the dying of the light, though this offered a pleasing resonance with the happy and light-hearted first half of jest and merry courtships. The arrival of twilight ushered in the second half, and the moody lighting only served to enhance this tempestuously sombre period of the play. The contemporary mood was underpinned by modern chart music, and the concluding dancing revelry in celebration of the unions of Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice, made for a delightful ending.
In more ways than one, this is a charming and passionate performance. Where acting, venue and atmosphere come together, tremendous theatre does emerge – an exemplar in fringe theatre.
Jonathan David Brunton