Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare Company
Guildford Castle
(2006)

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This new company has been created by two local actors, Matt Pinches and his partner Sarah Gobran, who aim to make Shakespeare “exciting, engaging and accessible whilst remaining faithful to the original works”. The ten-strong cast of this dedicated and hardworking team have certainly achieved their aim with their inaugural production, a light-hearted frolic perfectly suited to the enchanting open-air setting and they provide an evening of total enjoyment.

The play is set in the twenties - a time of flappers, the Charleston, and what was then thought of as licentious behaviour - but Shakespeare understood the human heart better than anyone before or since and this play is full of sexual innuendo as well as deceit, trickery, and slanderous allegations. The deeper you look in his plays the more you will find.

This production does not delve. It has decided to be fast and furious fun and so it is, especially in their ‘chase’ sequences (complete with appropriate music) very reminiscent of the Keystone Cops silent films. The story, of course, concerns two pairs of lovers. Claudio and Hero are to be wed but (here’s where the slanderous allegations come in) Claudio is tricked into believing that his love is unchaste and shames her at their intended wedding. I have always thought Claudio to be a bit of a wimp – he falls in love, but wants to be sure that his love is an heiress, and he even gets someone else to propose for him. Then, believing that Hero has died, he agrees to marry another – but she should bring money too. I can’t think why Hero would want him! Simon Lee Phillips plays Claudio exactly as I would expect him to be – part dreamily idealistic, part conscious of practicalities (money), and full of wounded pride and indignation when he believes his ‘paragon’ is not so perfect.

Trudi Jackson’s Hero is a gem. Appearing first as a glamorous fun-loving flapper happily overdoing the champagne, she changes amazingly when she doubles as a member of the Watch – rough, uncouth, with flies undone and scratching in places we won’t mention.

Matt Pinches is the comic turn of the evening, playing Benedick as a slightly camp flying officer of the period.. With a face as mobile as that of Rowan Atkinson, his every expression (especially when he ‘overhears’ that Beatrice loves him) is a joy, and when he dons a dress for the masque he would be totally convincing as a woman – if it wasn’t for the moustache!

The bandstand, in and around which the company perform, makes a versatile stage, and they also use a large amount of the surrounding area. Father Francis (Jeremy Worsnip who also double as Dogberry of the Watch) arrives on a bicycle, and Gobran’s Beatrice shows her annoyance as she storms in from afar, “Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner”, and is rather taken aback when she receives a pleasant response. A bossy lady, this Beatrice, with no intention of being subservient to a man, and it is a nice touch which dresses her in top hat and tails at the masque while Benedick is in female attire. This bickering couple argue to the finish, even when wed, with Gobran having most of the fast and witty dialogue. Their marriage will not be boring!

A mention too for Becci Gemmell’s supporting performance as Hero’s nonchalant maid Margaret, and also as Verges of the watch.

The whole cast performed with energy, enthusiasm and expertise, providing an evening of pure pleasure! Take a picnic – and enjoy!

Running until Saturday 15th July

Reviewer: Sheila Connor