Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakekspeare
The Guildford Shakespeare Company in association with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Guildford Castle Grounds

Much Ado About Nothing production photo

The mantra of this company is “Don’t just watch Theatre - Experience it!” Well, with them last night we all experienced the worst weather I have ever experienced at any open air venue, a prolonged downpour which left my notebook and programme too soggy to use. Somehow it didn’t seem to matter. Not a soul left or rushed for cover and all sat stoically to the end, while the cast themselves completely ignored the rain and proceeded to perform as if they were in blazing sunshine. displaying a joie de vivre which even ignored the wet mud creeping insidiously up the hems of designer Susannah Henry’s beautiful Edwardian dresses. The men fared better in their military uniforms.

Hannah Chissick has set the scene in 1914 with the soldiers returning from the first battle of the Great War, and to welcome them governor Leonato has opened up the grounds of his country house in fairground style with coconut shy, Punch and Judy and a ‘Soak the Policeman’ stand. The audience were invited to join in and many did with gusto, getting the show off to a friendly and jolly beginning with popular songs of the period adding to the atmosphere. We were all in this together and we were going to enjoy it!

Of the twin love stories, James Loye and Ellie Beaven give the young Claudio and Hero a little more substance than is usual. I have never liked Claudio who makes sure he marries for money, is tricked into believing the worst of his love and humiliates her on their wedding day. Here his expressions show the uncertainty, bewilderment and righteous indignation of a young man feeling he has been cheated, and he seems genuinely sad and regretful when refusing to marry, while his Hero (often seen as a bland character) is sweetly pretty, suitably coy and adorable in her first young love.

The roles of Beatrice and Benedick, conducting their ‘merry war’ of witty riposte and sharp put-downs, are taken by the company founders Sarah Gobran and Matt Pinches, as they were in their inaugural production in 2006. Being partners in real life as well as in business seems to give their performances an extra frisson and enjoyment, and I’ll never forget the astounded expression on Matt’s face when he pops up in the Punch and Judy tent overhearing his three friends tell of Beatrice’s love.

There is laughter and fun all the way, combined with the intrigue of Prince Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John, a role taken by Andy Cryer displaying disgruntled self-righteous resentment and a desire to cause trouble. What a contrast when Cryer then becomes the funniest Dogberry I have ever seen and has the audience in stitches. Farcical it may be, but not overdone, just perfect entertainment.

Another dual role has Rhys King as the shifty and troublemaking Borachio, and so very different as the conciliatory and holy Friar Francis. Facial expressions are very important in such close proximity to the performers and the whole cast perfectly convey each character and emotion. Who would have thought that we could all have enjoyed ourselves so much in such horrific weather, but there’s no doubt that we did.

The company was set up to reignite the passion for Shakespeare and theatre-going and to offer the people of Surrey a different kind of theatre experience. With their magnificent, riveting thriller of Hamlet earlier this year, this fun-filled frolic, and The Merchant of Venice to follow, suitably set in the Guildford College of Law, I think we can say - they’ve done it!

"Much Ado About Nothing" continues until 2nd July 2011

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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