Bury St Edmunds.

by William Shakespeare.

Theatre Royal Westgate Street IP33 1QR To 26 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.

TICKETS: 01284 769505.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 February.

A director and a Beatrice for Shakespeareans to watch.
Considered a comedy, Much Ado has its near-tragic aspect prominent in Abigail Anderson’s revival. Morose villain Don John clearly has his eyes on the heroine Hero; he would have partnered her if Claudio hadn’t got in first. On this Georgian stage, James Wallace resembles a melodrama villain with his sour, drawling manner. He gives rise to a jealousy both sexual and honour-based that almost kills Hero, as it does Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and actually murders Othello’s Desdemona.

Despite a few cuts Anderson finds room for the supposed-dead Hero to wander alone, singing, recalling Ophelia’s distracted songs at Hamlet’s cruelty. Tragedy is indeed prominent.

Hero’s story only takes off after the interval, and Anderson’s production gives it due weight and space, showing how the benign deceptions played earlier on reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedict offset the malign rumour of infidelity that smashes the easy-running love of Claudio and Hero. Love hard-won is built on surer grounds than intense, immediate passion.

Passionate intensity’s the mark of security chief Dogberry, in his yokel world. His Watch are more comic as they sit around than in saying the lines – though Ian Barritt’s red-coated pomp in this Napoleonic-era setting matches his self-estimation.

Anderson gives separate energies to characters. Ellie Kirk’s Hero is a poor-little-rich-girl, her cheeks reddened with tears, features drawn in utter misery upon rejection. Yet once happiness is restored, she has a bright joy, as if there had never been sorrow. There’s plenty of male camaraderie, making more pointed Benedick’s disruption of the jocose atmosphere as he comes to challenge Claudio. And John Webb’s fury when Leonato believes his daughter’s guilty is terrifying.

And the production dances under the star of Polly Lister’s Beatrice. With her own past sadness, Beatrice survives by wit and independence. There’s good work from Nicholas Tizzard’s Benedick, but it’s Lister – combining assured technique with a naturalness that makes Beatrice seem a real person not a character, and the ability to respect the verse while giving it spontaneity – who stands out in a production which stimulates right up to its final dance of interweaving men and women.

Leonato: John Webb.
Borachio/Friar Francis: Nick Underwood.
Beatrice: Polly Lister.
Hero: Ellie Kirk.
Don Pedro: Michael Onslow.
Benedick: Nicholas Tizzard.
Don John/Verges: James Wallace.
Claudio: Ben Deery.
Margaret: Suzanne Ahmet.
Antonio/Dogberry: Ian Barritt.

Director: Abigail Anderson.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Composer/Musical Director: Pat Whymark.
Choreographer: Yael Loewenstein.
Costume: Mia Flodquist.

2011-02-23 00:20:03

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