Much Ado About Nothing
Susan Elkin | 09 Jun 2022 12:37pm
I’m with Hector Belioz on this one. A great Shakespeare fan, he titled his musical response to this play, Beatrice and Benedick – presumably because he thought that they are the heart of Much Ado About Nothing and the most interesting thing in it. That’s certainly what I think, too.
And they’re in terrific form in this sparky, funny, beautifully acted, 80 minute open air version. There is evident chemistry between them from long before the play opens. Why else do they keep singling each other out for verbal abuse, mockery and word play? Verity Kirk makes her Beatrice, “born to speak all mirth and no matter” feisty, cross, clever – but oddly vulnerable. Kirk has a fine range of mutinous expressions through which it’s like the sun coming out when she grins. And when she is comforting her devastated cousin Hero (Elizabeth Chu who doubles rather cleverly as Margaret) she stops mocking and we see a genuinely outraged woman.
James Camp more than matches her as Benedick, He darts about pretending to avoid her, doing hilariously expressive things with his face, The gulling scene in which he overhears a conversation meant for him is the funniest I’ve ever seen it – I shall never look at a strip of bunting in quite the same way again. And when they, finally, inevitably, come together we know that there will never be a dull moment in their home because they’ll be sparring until the day they die.
George Readshaw is strong as the rustic, accordion playing Dogberry into whose role are neatly conflated various others. Alex Wilson is very convincing as both Claudio, who really doesn’t deserve Hero, and the trouble making Borachio. Eleanor De Rohan is also good as Don Pedro and Don Jon who become sisters in this version although I doubt that anyone new to the play would quite follow the intricacies of who is doing what and why in that part of the plot, given the cuts and the doubling – but it’s a minor gripe.
And all this is shot through with folksy songs – at least one of which is borrowed from a different play – composed and arranged by MD, Ollie King. They feel perfectly apposite in the leafy setting of the Orchard at Grantchester especially as there are several competent actor musos in the cast (Wilson does trumpet flourishes rather well and Camp turns the trombone into another character), The company of six forms a fine choir too – the opening number in harmony, which stays perfectly in tune ready for the accordion to pick up the melody again, is a high spot.
In just two years, Half Cut Theatre has created a distinctive, highly entertaining way of working. One of their great strengths, for instance, is staying pretty faithful to Shakespeare’s text but seamlessly dropping in asides to wonderful comic effect. Most importantly of all they are bringing live theatre to communities which might not otherwise have access to it. The current tour is their biggest yet. Bravo!