Much Ado About Nothing at the Park Theatre
The quaint Park Theatre, nestled among the streets of Finsbury Park, provides the perfect setting for ACS Random’s charming production of Much Ado About Nothing. Set during the Christmas following World War II, Shakespeare’s great romantic comedy brims with festive cheer as director Andrew Shepherd transports us to a time of celebration, victory and merriment.
A quintessential Englishness pervades the stage as the illustrious Elizabethan poetry of the nation’s most recognised literary figure fuses with mid-20th century gung-ho upper class gentry. This post-war setting blends seamlessly with Shakespeare’s text, where Don Pedro, Benedick and Claudio return victorious from battle to “Messina” estate, only to be greeted with a “merry war of wit” between feuding and seemingly averse lovers Beatrice and Benedick.
An enchanting and slickly-staged montage recounts the frivolous history of the pair’s sporadic romance, scattered with radio announcements and air raid sirens – haunting reminders of the past war. Libby Evans plays Beatrice perfectly; her shrewd cynicism, erudite yet fiercely ironic and jaunty manner flawlessly captures the enigmatic spinster, who uses her phenomenal wit to shield the pain of Benedick’s taunts. As they jeer and tease a fierce chemistry throbs between them, providing much hilarity. The refined slapstick of Gordon Ridout’s Dogberry is also wonderfully executed, his bumbling presence giving some soaring comic notes to the performance.
Amid the play’s jesting and taunting lie many sincere and poignant moments. Comedy quickly dissipates into tragedy during Claudio and Hero’s wedding, when Claudio denounces his fiancée a “rotten orange” over suspicions of her infidelity. Demonstrating their focus as an ensemble, the cast give a resounding performance of bitter devastation, with Andrew Venning’s acerbity as Claudio coming to the fore. The sombre tones of the Last Post played on a hand-held bugle at Hero’s mock-funeral leaves a stony silence, showing the post-war theme at its most morose.
There are faults. Shakespeare’s drama is pared to down to such an extent that in some places the humour is a little lost – particularly Benedict’s lines, which fail to produce the comedic heights usually felt. The pace does lag at points causing Shakespeare’s fast paced, witty dialogue to wane. Despite this, the production conjures a charmingly festive, cosy feel and it’s most imperative elements – its raillery, intensity and jollity – really do sparkle.
Much Ado About Nothing is at the Park Theatre until 15th December 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.