by William Shakespeare.
4 Start ****

St Paul’s Church to 22 July
Covent Garden, London WC2E 9ED to 22 July 2016.
Runs 2hr 30 Mins One interval.

Review: William Russell 1 July.

Beatrice and Benedick strike sparks
The glory of Much Ado is the dazzling battle of wits between Beatrice, Leonardo’s feisty daughter and Benedict, the swashbuckling soldier who is terrified of settling down. They are, of course, hopelessly in love.

In a sense it is the acceptable face of the couple of Petruchio and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. That play, like The Merchant of Venice, poses problems to modern audiences in their attitudes. Here it is a battle between equals and Anne-Maria Piazza as Beatrice and Nick Howard-Brown as Benedick do full justice to the protagonists in this somewhat pared down, but very well performed, version. It works particularly well staged in the idyllic surrounds of the garden of St Paul’s church.

It would be even more idyllic were it not for the racket from the surrounding streets which, on a Friday night at least, was very loud indeed. They are veterans of performing here, however, and know how to get the lines across.

The seven strong cast work wonders doubling several roles and the result is hugely effective. The night I saw it a large party of schoolchildren formed much of the audience and they were entranced.

The problem with the play is not the battle of the sexes, as it is with the one in the Shrew, but the other plot strand. Claudio, Benedick’s companion in arms, falls at first sight on returning from war, in love with Beatrice’s sister Hero only to disown her at the altar after she is alleged to have been sleeping around with other men by the villainous Don John. It leads to one of those difficult moments when Beatrice tells Benedict – “Kill Claudio.”

It worked in Shakespeare’s time – virginity in a bride was essential – but not today. Claudio is finely played by Graeme Dalling as a puffed up bantam cock clearly ruled by his libido and Emma McDonald’s delightful Hero is not going to have the best of marriages. The fact he is a macho monster is never disguised, the production concentrating instead on the terrific witty war of words between Piazza and Howard-Brown. He also does a terrific double turn as Borachio, Don John’s sidekick who sets up the false accusation against Hero. Given that he is bearded this is no mean feat.

The comic characters – Dogberry, Verges and the watchmen – are among Shakespeare’s dreariest and little time is wasted on them by director Amy Draper who concentrates on the play’s strengths There are handsome sets, a strong cast, and result is as good open air theatre as one could hope to find although poor Piazza does get a horrid set of yellow cycling bloomers to wear – the time is somewhere around the turn of the last century – of which the costume designer should be deeply ashamed.

Don Pedro: Darrel Bailey.
Benedick/Borachio: Nick Howard-Brown.
Margaret/Abbess/Don John/ Messenger: Jennifer Clement.
Claudio: Graeme Dalling.
Leonato/Sexton: Denis Delahunt.
Hero/Dogberry: Emma McDonald.
Beatrice/Verges: Anne-Maria Piazza.

Director: Any Draper.
Composer: Candida Caldicot.
Set Designer: Amber Scarlett.
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Polya.
Costume Designer: Kinetia Isidore.
Sound Designer: Filipe Gomes.

2016-07-03 16:59:24

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