Director: Douglas Rintoul
Musical Director: Julian Littman
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Celebrations at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch. as Shakespeare is celebrated, 400 after his death. A new Artistic Director [Douglas Rintoul] is welcomed to the Billet Lane theatre, and, put out more flags, World War II is over, and Claudio and his chums come victorious home to start Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a warm, witty production, spoken with admirable clarity and acted with energy and passion.
Hattie Ladbury makes a wonderful Beatrice. She’s had a good war, by the look of her when she walks on for the first time with a confident swagger in mechanic’s overalls. “If I were a man…”. Lanky, gauche at times, she excels in the war of wits with Benedick, a glance, an inflection will suffice to let us read her mind and share her thoughts. Thomas Padden’s Benedick is less obviously charismatic. Balding, bearded at first, clean-shaven with civet for the wooing, he manages the marriage soliloquy with style, switching from introspection to audience engagement in a moment.
The lovers are backed by a very strong company, almost all of them new faces at the Queen’s.
Mark Jax’s grizzled Leonato, carousing like Sir Toby at Claudio’s stag do, quite undone by grief at the shaming of his daughter Hero. She’s engagingly played by Amber James, who dashes round to double the Sexton and a member of the Watch. More versatility from Pascale Burgess: the treacherous Margaret – a lovely moment in the boudoir dreaming of gowns “laced with silver, set with pearls” – and a hilarious Warwickshire Dogberry, all silly swagger and malapropisms. The Watch work hard, in their gaberdine capes, with Verges [Jamie Bradley] acting out the briefing, but the humour of their scenes, as so often, is largely elusive.
Liam Bergin is the sinister Don John, the “canker in the hedge”, lurking and looking on, dressed in black “I cannot hide what I am…” – Mosley, are we meant to think ? – and Sam Pay, a Queen’s Theatre regular under the old regime, is an excellent Borachio, drunkenly sharing his secret with the front stalls, and Ursula, here upgraded to Leonato’s sister, is strongly characterized by Eliza Hunt. A bluff, military Don Pedro from Nigel Hastings, and a clean-cut Tyneside Claudio from James Siggens, making a very promising professional début in this production. Worth wearing a microphone throughout for his superb Sigh No More trio, with Benedick clowning in the background. A moment to treasure.
The music generally (Julian Littman) is powerfully evocative of the period – Johnny Comes Marching Home for the opening scene, and for the dance at the close, Al Jolson’s You Made Me Love You.
Good to see the involvement of a community chorus – standing at the door of the church, and of Leonato’s monument, hanging the bunting, putting away the garlanded wedding chairs before the door slams and we are in the cells with the malefactor.
The setting – a country house garden, with the house and outbuildings behind, is easily and ingeniously transformed into church, vault and the rest. The central gulling scenes use the space brilliantly, hedges, stepladder, picnic rug all pressed into service, and Beatrice the lapwing popping up like a jack-in-the-box.
A big-hearted, accessible production of a favourite Shakespeare: straightforward enough to engage the newcomer, inventive enough to keep the Bard buff entertained.
Runs until 26 March 2016 | Image: Mark Sepple