views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Much Ado About Nothing
Camden People's Theatre
11th July 2015

★★★★☆

Julia Munrow, Akila Cristiano and Ben Scarles as Leonata, Hero and Claudio

Photography supplied by Professional Help Productions

Much Ado About Nothing is one of those rare plays where the title succinctly captures the entire plot in only a few words. A lot happens, none of it with any real consequence. When Don Pedro (Kirk Collens) and his soldier buddies come to stay chez Leonata (Julia Munrow), his best mate Claudio (Ben Scarles) falls in love with Leonata's only child, Hero (Akila Cristiano). Don Pedro's brother Don John (Simon Every) has been mad at him for years, and finally finds a way to exact his revenge - by doing his best to ruin Claudio's life. Of course with this being a Shakespearean comedy, there's mistaken identity, plots, subplots and brilliantly daft humour. It's probably one of his most accessible plays and yet not one I've seen staged particularly often.

Theatre in the round is used to great effect by director Linda Miller. There's a large ensemble cast, and the opening with the soldiers squaring off against each other to a backdrop of pulsating music and club lights by lighting and sound designer Janet A Smith-Cantrill is simply stunning. Sometimes it feels like a director is trying to set a show in the the round just because it's trendy, but Miller really justifies herself here. There's plenty of movement, giving the whole audience a good view, and it never feels forced. There are some utterly delightful touches such as designer Andy Robinson's trellis fence which moves all around the stage as Beatrice (Deborah Wastell) eavesdrops a conversation about herself and Benedick (Steve Blacker). Miller creates a very relaxed, easy-going atmosphere, with the ridiculousness of the Bard's work emphasised.

The parts have all been perfectly cast. Beatrice is playful and fiery, with a strong "take-no-prisoners" Aberdonian accent. A nice-but-dim Benedick understandably reacts to her low opinion of him by giving as good as he gets. Watching the couple slowly drift from hate into love down to the interference of their friends is thoroughly entertaining and quite moving at the same time. They're both loud and argumentative, yet beneath the bravado remains two people who simply want to care and be cared for. Contrasting against her bolshy cousin, Hero is delicate and innocent. When her fiance Claudio cruelly leaves her at the alter, it feels like he's more upset at what he perceives to be Hero's lack of morals, rather than a mere personal slight. We can understand where he's coming from, and forgive him later. He's generally good-natured, just deliberately misled.

Deborah Wastell and Kirk Collens as Beatrice and Don Pedro

Photography supplied by Professional Help Productions

On the subject of manipulation, Simon Every delivers an intense performance as Don John. The bastard prince really hates his brother, and we know it's because of his lineage and his jealousy for Don Pedro's flavour-of-the month. In the production, it seems that he's chucked all his toys out of the pram and overreacted. Nonetheless, Every does angry very well and we do believe he's capable to trying to ruin Claudio and Hero on little more than a whim. He's a natural stage villain with an unsettling demeanour.

Light relief is brought by Dogberry (Andrew Lambe) and his hapless night watch. They seem to catch Don John's allies Borachio (Jonny Vaughton) and Conrade (Shri Patel) by accident rather than design. This is a knowingly silly play, and Miller even manages to find humour in the chapel where Don Pedro and Claudio regret their actions, with some impeccable timing and spot-on singing by Friar Francis (Nicholas Koy Santillo). Maybe this comes from seeing the show so far into its run, but the action feels well paced and very tight.

Although this adaptation of Much Do About Nothing captures the humour of the source text, it's also tinged with modernity. Professional Help Productions have gently polishd a old heirloom rather than melted it down into something new. Much Ado About Nothing quite rightly is a lot of fun, packed full of laughs and makes excellent use of a strong cast.

Much About About Nothing opened on 30th June and runs until 19th July 2015 at Camden People's Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)



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