Writer: William Shakespeare
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
The Lord Chamberlains Men were Shakespeare’s originally playing company, travelling London and its surrounding areas, setting up shop where they could and developing a reputation as one of the cities leading companies before building the original Globe and creating history.
Four hundred years later, Mark Purdle resurrected it before handing control over to one of its former performers, Peter Stickney, last year. In his programmenotes, Stickney is full of big ideas and empire building, of winter seasons and presenting other playwrights old and new. While this is admirable, one hopes he doesn’t forget the modus operandifor this Much Ado About Nothing, performed on a mild Friday night is a thing of joy, accessible, broad and likeable in equal measure.
Much Ado is the perfect play to watch as the sun fades down over the West, the early quarrelling of Benedick and Beatrice takes place in red and amber glow before the later chillier section as Claudio betrays his Hero and Beatrice demands her pound of flesh ends up occurring in midnight hues and candle flecked lighting. It reminds you that though it is a much-loved comedy, it is also most likely his darkest, there is a fine line between the sock and the buskin masks and we are a confession away from things taking a vastly different turn.
Stickney keeps the action flowing, there has been work put into the transitions between the scenes and the seven-strong cast take the play at the clap: with only minimal cuts it comes in at two and a quarter hours with an interval. He also ensures performances that while broad also keeps to the truth and the playing of the women especially is impressive. Without ever resorting to drag and with just a slight upward inflection of voice and softening of stance, they convince us both of their femininity while never shying away from the fact that these are men playing women. Jon Tozzi is a doe-eyed ingénue as Hero, immediately smitten by Nathan Coenen’s Claudio and heartbreaking in her altar betrayal, while Matthew McFetridge has some fun with the gossiping Margaret. If Jordan Bernarde is showing signs of vocal wear in the middle of a long tour his physical peacock strutting Benedick is still a lot of fun and his one-upmanship wordplay with Oliver Buckner’s superb Beatrice a show highlight.
Buckner gets to the heart of this great role and makes it clear the reason for her warring hostility is a broken heart suffered by her beloved, her ‘I knew you once’ speaks of a time of pain and disappointment in her sparring partner. The shell she puts up is a protective barrier but can’t be kept up when cupid’s arrow strikes, the fluttering hands and feet when she overhears that Benedick loves her suggests she is ready to soar away on the wing of love.
The watch scenes may not be the funniest we’ve seen but the musical numbers, arranged by Alex Beetshan, are strong and melodic. With a little bit of luck with the weather, a picnic and good company, a night in the open air with Shakespeare feels as traditional and as British as Pimms and Murray Mound. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, taking their inspiration from the original, show how to do it in style.
Reviewed on 29 July 2016 – continues to tour until September | Image: Contributed