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Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
The Lords of Misrule
King's Manor, York
(2004)

Advertising image from the Lords of Misrule production of Much Ado

August 2004 has been a cruel month for open-air productions. This lively Much Ado was to have been staged in the courtyard of the King's Manor in York, but due to the dismal weather the players were obliged to use a room in the building itself. Ironically, the new venue's stone walls and mullioned windows turned out to be an ideal (if somewhat cramped) backdrop to the scenes in Leonato's house - and the fireplace also came in handy as a hiding place for Beatrice and Benedick!

The Lords of Misrule, most of whose members are post-graduate students at York University's Centre for Medieval Studies, specialize in original pronunciation versions of medieval drama and Shakespeare. This was the first such production I've seen, and I was astonished at how quickly the ear becomes accustomed to hearing words spoken in what to Shakespeare's first audience would have been standard pronunciation. This aspect alone would make the production well worth seeing, but despite the authentic pronunciation and Tudor costumes, this Much Ado is no dry academic exercise.

Any production of the play relies heavily on the respective strengths of its Beatrice and Benedick, who need to be equally at home with their sparkling repartee and the very different scenes generated by Hero's apparent death. Joanna Huntington and Rob Wright not only handle both with aplomb, but the chemistry between them (sadly lacking in several professional productions I've seen over the years) is a joy to behold. Not all the acting is of this quality, but most of the leading roles are strongly cast. Alice Cowen is an elegant and beautifully spoken Don Pedro; Mike Tyler, his helmet sprouting more feathers as the evening progresses, makes the most of Dogberry; Alex Mansfield (who also directs) is a pert Margaret, and Ilse Schweitzer a convincingly swaggering Borachio. Anthony Masinton and Stephanie Masinton do their best Claudio and Hero, surely two of the most thankless roles in Shakespearean comedy, but the evening belongs to Huntington and Wright.

Reviewer: J. D. Atkinson