Pros: A talented cast and some very clever casting bring this performance to life.
Cons: Some of the comedic elements are gaudy and far too over-the-top.
The New Wimbledon Theatre is playing host to a delightful, summery performance of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
This production is set in 2011, and sees the army returning from Iraq to spend some time recuperating in the village estate of Leonata. Whilst there, soldiers fall in love with the two young women living in the house – but the course of true love never did run smooth, and gossip and lies feature heavily as couples come together and dramatically break up.
The stage is very rustic and reminiscent of an English summer garden. A wooden bench sits amidst potted plants, and a lovely string of lights illuminates the pleasant garden. Lively violin and flute music contributes well to the atmosphere, and one almost expects to see fireflies dart amongst the settings.
Though it is set in 2011, there are many things that feel unsuited to any particular time period. The police force are very modernly attired and characters regularly pull out mobile phones to snap selfies— but apart from that, the setting feels more historic in atmosphere and would not be out of place in the 1920s – 1940s. Hero’s nostalgic, earthy wedding dress would look more in place on a vintage clothing line rather than one from 2011 and there is much of classical, historical, country England on show.
The performance itself is strong. The company pride themselves on casting by role, not by gender, and this is something that works tremendously well in Much Ado About Nothing. For this production Claudio is Claudia, played by the wonderfully emotional Freya Anderson, and casting the role as a woman brings an exciting new element to the subject matter. Claudia and Hero’s unfolding love feels very innocent and genuine with this casting, and the two young women seem excited to go on a journey of discovery together. Nathalie Barclay’s Hero excels when distraught after the trauma at the altar, and her collapse and subsequent sobs are harrowing.
Borachio is one of the most intriguing characters – he does not behave well, and Edward Anderson’s depiction of him is interesting. Cool, calm and borderline sociopathic, he’s untrustworthy and yet is the person who eventually sets the ball in motion for the wrongs to be righted. His character seems to go through actual redemption; something unpredictable to the sociopathic nature presented initially, and he commands your attention on stage.
Similarly, Benedick and Beatrice are brought to life well by Michael Bagwell and Charlie Ryall respectively; the two exchange barbs, then amazement, and then genuine love as the story unfolds. Bagwell is particularly amusing in the garden scene, when overhearing of Beatrice’s supposed love. The comedic element is drawn out wonderfully in this scene, and the audience is in peals of laughter when the watering can comes out.
Where the performance is slightly let down is by the lack of continuity in how the subject matter is presented. The funeral for Hero is stunning, and the vocals provided by Siobhan Cha Cha are moving – but some of the more comedic elements are gaudy and overdone, particularly with regards to the bumbling police force. They are to be comical, but I felt that element was pushed too far from the rather pristine beauty of the scene. Bumbling village policeman do not need to be gaudy to be aloof; but in this production they come with a strong circus-esque element.
It’s a very sweet performance, and certainly an enjoyable one as well. It does so well with atmosphere and emotion, and is absolutely worth seeing on those points alone. That the cast are so well-suited for their roles makes for a very well-rounded production.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Joanna Freeman
Producer: Wyrd Sisters
Booking Until: This production has now finished its run