24 May 2009

Much Ado About Nothing - Open Air Theatre @ Regents Park, Monday 25th May 2009


The war is over. Pedro Prince of Aragon, with his followers Benedick and Claudio,visits Leonato, Duke of Messina, father of Hero and uncle of Beatrice. Claudio falls in love with Hero and their marriage is agreed upon. Beatrice and Benedick despise love and engage in comic banter. The others plot to make them fall in love with each other, by a trick in which Benedick will overhear his friends talking of Beatrice's supposed secret love for him, and vice versa. Meanwhile Don John, the prince's misanthropic illegitimate brother, contrives a more malicious plot with the assistance of his follower Borachio: Claudio is led to believe that he has witnessed Hero in a compromising situation on the night before her wedding day – in fact it is her maid Margaret with Borachio. Claudio denounces Hero during the marriage ceremony. She faints and on the advice of the Friar, who is convinced of her innocence, Leonato announces that she is dead. Beatrice demands that Benedick should kill Claudio. The foolish constable Dogberry and his watchmen overhear Borachio boasting of his exploit and the plot is exposed. Claudio promises to make amends to Leonato: he is required to marry a cousin of Hero's in her place. When unmasked, she is revealed as Hero. Beatrice agrees to marry Benedick.

Peter Bramhill : Borachio
Sean Campion : Benedick
Silas Carson : Don Pedro
Eke Chukwu : Watch/Messenger
Nigel Cooke : Leonato
Simon Gregor : Verges
Tim Howar : Balthasar
Sarah Ingram : Ursula
Chris Jared : Conrade
Ben Mansfield : Claudio
Mark McGee : Watch
Harry Myers : Watch/Sexton
Anthony O'Donnell : Dogberry
Anneika Rose : Hero
Annalisa Rossi : Margaret
Samantha Spiro : Beatrice
Tim Steed : Don John
Kate Tydman : Waiting Woman
David Whitworth : Friar Francis

Creative Team:
Director Timothy Sheader
Designer Philip Witcomb
Costume Designer Deidre Clancy
Composer David Shrubsole
Choreographer Ann Yee
Lighting Designer Simon Mills
Sound Designer Fergus O'Hare
Casting Director Ginny Schiller
Voice Coach and Text Consultant Barbara Houseman
Language and Verse Consultant Giles Taylor
Assistant Choreographer David Grewcock
Assistant Director Kate Sagovsky

Ah, the sounds of the English summer. The plop of tennis balls at Wimbledon, the crack of leather on willow followed by the subdued clack-clack-clack of polite applause at Lords, the chink of champagne flutes during the Glyndebourne interval, and the incessant pitterpatter of raindrops falling on umbrellas at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park.

I've now lost count of how many times I've seen this play. I've seen brilliant versions, indifferent versions, so-so versions and feckin' awful versions. The opening gambit in this year's OATRP season is perhaps best described as Shakespeare-by-numbers - safe, tidy and gently trimmed back, rather like the exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show. All the T's crossed and all the I's dotted. Nothing too controversial, nothing that will upset visiting relations from out of town or tourists from other lands. Pretty costumes, a minor "star name" showing us that she can do the Classics, a couple of sets of safe Shakespearian hands in supporting roles. Even a couple of gags about the weather. All very nice. Very Regent's Park. Penny plain and tuppence coloured.

Still, it was nice to see that this was a vaguely period production. I have absolutely no time for modern-dress Shakespeare, as regular readers will no doubt remember. An interesting permanent set, of wiggly wooden paths leading in and out of the shrubbery at the back (which this year includes a viciously pollarded plane tree looking like something from Lear's blasted heath), with an all-purpose "orange tree" planted in the middle - this is Messina, remember. At various points, people sit on the swing hanging from this and, at some point in the season, that tree is going to crack, you mark my words - it bends alarmingly. Quite how the cast are going to incorporate that into the show I have no idea.

Samantha Spiro did an OK job with Beatrice, but it wasn't until after the interval that she really seemed to get the bit between her teeth. She clowns well, but there was little of the light and shade that Zoe Wannamaker achieved with the role back in December 2007 at the National. She was essentially a merry Beatrice rather than one with healed-over wounds, and only occasionally threw any kind of weight into the part. Sean Campion (a devotee of the Simon Russell Beale "spit all over everyone" method of vocal delivery) also seemed to lack something in the oooomph department and his was a rather one-dimensional Benedick as a result. Silas Carson, however, glittered in a slightly dangerous fashion as Don Pedro, playing the role rather sexier and younger than I believe is usual. Ben Mansfield was everything you want in a Shakespeare prince - floppy haired, doe-eyed. lean, hairy and gorgeous ; the kind of man that makes me want to rack up a gram and shout to my obedient flunkies "Have him stripped, washed, handcuffed and sent to my tent. Actually, no - don't strip him; I'll do it myself. With my teeth". Quite honestly I was enjoying watching him too much to actually take much note of his acting (pauses to wipe dribble off the keyboard). Among the minor principals, Annalisa Rossi is notable for two particular reasons. I think the word that Shakespeare would use is buxom. And of course, there was the obligatory Member-of-The-Cast-Known-To-Him-Indoors; this time Sarah Ingram making a good fist of the somewhat thankless role of Ursula.

Particularly of note in this production is the skill with which Anthony O'Donnell paints Dogberry. Perhaps unique among all the Dogberry's I've seen, he actually managed to make his scenes funny. Ably assisted by the rest of the Watch, I think I truly enjoyed these scenes for the first time ever. Perhaps Mr. O'Donnell might pop down to the National and give some "Shakespeare Clown" lessons?
What the critics said:

1 comment:

JohnnyFox said...

"safe, tidy and gently trimmed back" ...

should've been put on at the Bush ! :-)