first night

Much Ado About Nothing

Mike Clarke finds much made of something in Much Ado...

Shakespeare gabbled is awkward. Shakespeare misunderstood is awful. But even with the best actors in the world, Shakespeare done boringly is unforgiveable.

Fortunately, FTC’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is far from any of these. Framed in a modern office, where the returning men are seen arriving back from a spell in the City, the Directors (Jenny Fox and Alice Evans) have developed a truly original setting for the romantic comedy. A pair of desks, pop-art posters and an American-style drip coffee machine provided a simple but effective backdrop for the on-stage office rivalries and romances that Shakespeare’s script became. At times it was reminiscent of watching an episode of the IT Crowd, albeit with a slightly more ‘poetic’ script.

Set in this novel environment, rich with comic potential, the script and action of the plot was adapted with variable amounts of success. There were certain standout moments, which really worked: Leonato(Harry Page) with fussing around with a series of ties, getting ready for his daughter’s wedding, was nothing short of hilarious; squaring perfectly with his characterisation and expertly conducted. Equally, as Borachio (Max Ratcliffe) solicits Margaret (Jess Taylor), the devious off-stage act was marked brilliantly by a wayward bra and pair of socks.

Certain scenes, however, felt largely incongruous. Whilst they were convincingly portrayed, the constable (Fliss McDowall) and her two fellow Watchmen (Hannah Colling and Jess Taylor) seemed out of place as night security. An attempt to explain their presence, perhaps through a suitable bungling entrance in darkness, replete with a night-time soundscape, would have served the purpose. The episodes in which the two central characters ‘over-hear’ their ‘mutual’ love for one another could also have benefited from some greater polish; to make the most out of the opportunities provided by the staging.

The largest problem, arguably inevitable with student Shakespeare, was one of language. Whilst some, notably Don Pedro (Phillipe Bosher) and Hero (Sophie Allen), seemed largely comfortable with it, others were less fortunate. A few slip-ups, wrong names and an awkward silence portrayed, perhaps, some of the first night nerves. There was also a distinct tendency, during monologues, for the actors to gravitate to the front of the stage and stride from each corner. Stronger direction at these moments may have helped lend the speeches some more structure; coupled with greater control of some stiff, contrived gestures.

Such nerves surely couldn’t be helped by the occasional difficult scene changes and costume choices. Dismantling the church and reassembling the office, for instance, caused a lengthy pause. Indeed, there could have been more use made of music, which was effective when it was employed, to cover these moments. By and large the costumes were fantastic; aside from the suitably dull office attire, my personal favourites were Zorro and a penguin – both whipped out during the party scene. Less charming, although very brave, were the power ranger morph suits. Tight yellow clothing, bright lights and black boxers never mix with dignity.

Aside from these small issues, the performances were all dedicated and thoroughly enjoyable. Don John (Ben D’Souza) had a countenance reminiscent of a true Hollywood-esque villain. Meanwhile, Claudio (Nathan Young) was startling in his moment of trembling, teeth-clenching rejection of Hero at the altar. Benedick (Alex Prescot) was thoroughly endearing. His bravado and wit shone through, alongside a wide repertoire of mock-pained expressions and indecision. The star of the show, however, was a belligerent, domineering and fascinating Beatrice (Lizzie Reavley). Her delicate facial expressions and animated physicality provided a strong core that the rest of the cast seemed to respond to.

All in all, FTC have done a good job of an over-done play and created an enjoyable, light-hearted production. No better way to spend a freezing evening on the hill this week!

Mike Clarke

14 March 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
Our theatre that speaks for itself

DST is proud to be supported by: PwC