first night

Much Ado About Nothing

Emma Howell reviews the annual CTC Summer Shakespeare.

 Although the miserable weather sadly moved the venue, CTC’s performance of Much Ado About Nothing could not be dampened. The outstanding cast and creative team provided a delightful afternoon of theatre that should not be missed.

The only significant criticism of this production was the venue. Although the cast adapted well to their surroundings, the infamous Great Hall acoustics did detract somewhat from the performance. Many lines were lost which was a great shame as this was no fault of the performers themselves, but must be attributed to the poor acoustics. The venue was equally troubling for staging, too, as many audience members lost sight of the scenes that happened on the ground or the bench. I felt this hindered the comedic value of certain scenes, particularly the trickery of Beatrice and Benedick as they hid behind the benches; these scenes evoked great laughter for those in the front rows but were sadly lost by those sitting further back. These matters will undoubtedly be resolved in other venues, but I would strongly suggest grabbing a front row seat in Durham to fully appreciate the cast’s incredible work.

Director Kate Barton should be praised for her renovation of the great work. The decision to transpose the setting into a 1940s post-war era was refreshing and infused the Shakespearean language with modern accessibility that made the performance even more enjoyable. Both the costume and hair upheld this theme throughout in addition to wartime songs and camaraderie among the soldiers that consolidated this setting.

Barton further this innovation through the inclusion of live onstage music; Rohan Perumatantri and Alex Prescot's musical performances and the accompanying singing were charming and offered great wealth to the production. However, at times, I feel the festivity created by the music was dulled somewhat by the subsequent scenes; this was considerably noticeable in the Masquerade and the cast should aim to maintain the energy and charisma in their performance to compliment the charming music.

Two performers who succeeded in sustaining this energy throughout were Georgie Franklin and Theo Holt-Bailey who effortlessly carried the play in their performances as Beatrice and Benedick. Their comedic timing and confidence should be highly praised as they foiled each other perfectly. While the comedic rapport between the two was a complete joy to watch, I did feel the pair lacked the maturity that is central to the characters of Beatrice and Benedick as their charisma could often appear rather caricature, which sadly detracted from the sarcastic cynicism of the pair’s wit. Nonetheless, their performances were excellent and provided a solid foundation for the play.

Undoubtedly the standout performance of the evening was Jenny Walser’s portrayal of Hero. The still innocence of her character contrasted Franklin’s volatility beautifully, and her subtle displays of affection and anger were faultless and truly grounded the performance. This was particularly true as she was jilted at the altar by Harvey Comerford, Claudio, whose palpable rage was met with Walser’s collected anger and heartfelt grief, evoking great pity from the audience. Walser’s performance was stunning, as she succeeded in instilling feeling into the comedy.

This comedy was created by the sheer talent of the ensemble cast. Particular praise should be given to the trio of Tom Harper, Tristan Robinson and Theo Harrison for their portrayals as the villainous Don John, Borachio and Conrade; their comic relationship was highly amusing to the audience due to the contrast in the characters. Harrison’s simple characterisation was thoroughly engaging and his facial expressions often stole my interest when he was merely spectating events. This comically contrasted Harper’s cold and brilliant portrayal of Don John who convincingly conveyed true villainy and antagonism. It was a shame Harper’s role was featured less in the second act. However, Sarah Slimani as Dogberry ensured Act Two was equally as comic and entertaining; her characterisation was faultless and she demonstrated impressive comedic timing that evoked great humour.

All in all, the talented cast were a joy to watch and justly delivered Barton’s desire to refresh the Shakespearean classic. The impressive standard of their opening night promises a successful tour in the future. 

17 June 2016

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.
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