While this review of Much Ado About Nothing contains a considerable amount of bias, as we are all well aware Maria Ansdell and Beth Rennie are some of Newcastle’s greatest actors in almost all ways, this production would impress even the stuffiest spectator. Their quick wit, charm and ability to mesmerise the audience are personal traits perfectly reflected in their roles of Beatrice and Dogberry respectively. I could write a whole review on these stellar actors’ performance alone, but it would only be fair to comment more widely on the play.
Arriving at St Luke’s church, I was unsure of how this seemingly humdrum church hall would be transformed into a vibrant, post WWI setting but I needn’t have worried myself. The set, designed by Gemma Faulkner and Caitlin Rawlings, was far beyond that of amateur dramatics, let alone a student production; Union Jack bunting and fairy lights hung jubilantly around the room and it was clear great attention had been paid to each item on the stage, with overtones of mossy green, dark wood and brass, the vein of the era was very much present. The use of a window set off to the right of the stage was particularly brilliant in conveying the overhearing of conversations, a notion at the very crux of the play. This provided an extensive source of comedy when character’s attempting to be discreet knocked over a whole range of purposefully placed items in a carefully choregraphed routine. Ruaidhri Johnston as Benedick could be relied on to deliver each line with gusto and greatly contributed to the comedy, most notably in his intimate scene with a Christmas tree. The venue was made even more appropriate with a Christmas carollers-esque chorus opening the play and providing interludes throughout. The seamless weaving of music with dialogue was also largely due to Balthasar’s mesmerizingly beautiful solos, a role Shakespeare wrote for a young boy with an unbroken voice, yet here Tash Newton executed the role luminously.
the delivery of the whole cast had me giggling almost constantly throughout
The decision to cast women in roles traditionally played by men was a wise one: Leonato became Leonata and Zara Walwayn conveyed her strength with just as much vigour as any man could. Dogberry and the Watch are also traditionally male characters but Beth Rennie left no doubt in the audience’s mind regarding her right for the role. Her thick and compelling Scottish accent added significantly to the parody of Dogberry’s desire to speak with the eloquence of a nobleman, despite somehow always finding herself using the opposite word to the meaning she is attempting to convey.
Much Ado About Nothing contains many of Shakespeare’s typical themes: a marriage, appearance vs reality, a villain that isn’t punished for his wrong doing and of course it wouldn’t be Shakespeare without a woman accused falsely of sexual promiscuity. On paper this may not seem the most comedic of Shakespeare’s comedies, but the delivery of the whole cast had me giggling almost constantly throughout, with peaks of hysterical laughter nearly exclusively attributed to whenever Dogberry was on stage. Jay Robinson’s carefully timed facial expressions and staging as Claudio should receive particular commendation, and the whole trio of Don John, Benedick and Claudio made for very merry viewing.
I must admit, towards the end I got slightly confused by the death of Hero, which turned out not to be a death at all, and she in fact decides to marry Claudio in the end, even though he thinks he killed her at their first wedding, in which they didn’t actually get married. All very strange. While I can’t support Hero in marrying a man that knocked her out because he thought she had sex, this union brings about the much-anticipated wedding of Beatrice and Benedick.
The evening was one of feel good humour, with spot on casting across the board, which in turn delivered fantastic chemistry between the characters and a real coherent production. Often the skill of the actors is the sole stand out in a play but together with the aesthetically appealing set and well thought out costumes this production delivered in all aspects.