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Much Ado About Nothing, Park Theatre – Review

William Shakespeare
Directed by Andrew Shepherd
★★★

Pros: A mostly appropriate concept and some excellent performances in a brand-new venue make for a lovely evening.

Cons: Whilst nothing was bad about this production, it wasn’t particularly notable, either. Some of the comedy did not come across very well.

Our Verdict: Whilst it was a Christmassy, well-crafted performance, there was no laugh-out-loud comedy. Overall, it was a safe production.

Credit: Louisa Lewis

Park 90 is an intimate thrust space in London’s newest theatre, Park Theatre. ACS Random deck the stage with a large, conservatively dressed Christmas tree, paper garlands and fairy lights. A versatile small table and two chairs are used in numerous functions. Big band music plays almost constantly in the background, but does not intrude; instead it adds to the post-WWII setting. The costumes are pale, conservative and military but fit well and look authentic. A movement sequence shows us the history of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship. In this production, the two are former lovers who separated during the war. Benedick and his comrades return to the Messina estate after the war ends to find a group of headstrong, independent women that cause them no end of grief.

The concept suits these wonderful characters, but some of the plot points do not make sense to a modern setting. Dogberry and Verges (Gordon Ridout and Catherine Nix-Collins) are played as old-fashioned spies who root out the plot to sabotage Hero and Claudio’s marriage, but the broad, slapstick comedy does not come across with these uptight characters. Even though the women start out as very independent, they soon fall mercy to Leonato’s wishes about their relationships, which does not feel appropriate to 1945.

The performances are good, but two actors are outstanding. Libby Evans and Garry Summers are, fortunately, the two leads. Evans gave a well-rounded, highly developed interpretation of Beatrice that is biting and sharp, but we see her sensitivity and love later in the play. Summers starts as a sarcastic, arrogant Benedick that turns giddy and boyish when he is manipulated into falling in love with Beatrice. Of the rest of the ensemble, Andrew Venning plays a quiet, reserved Claudio who contrasts well with the other characters, but rather one-note. Angela Ferns’ Margaret is bold, sassy and sexy. Julian Bird’s Leonato is also quite good, though his anger when Hero is accused of adultery comes across as false. The ensemble has great chemistry as a whole, but few stand out.

This was a visually lovely production and I left the theatre with a warm, fluffy feeling. The performances were good, the concept worked most of the time, but there was no gravitas or high comedy. It all felt very middle-of-the-road. Christmas is a time for tradition rather than edgy, risky interpretations. This is a good production for this time of year, but it is unlikely to be the most memorable performance of Much Ado About Nothing that you will ever see.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
   
Much Ado About Nothing runs at Park Theatre until 15th December 2013 
Box Office: 020 7 870 6876 or book online at http://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/much-ado-about-nothing

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