MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING – St. Paul’s Covent Garden
Back to the rose garden, surely one of the nicest spots in central London for an outdoor performance, for the start of Iris Theatre’s latest season. Audiences this year will be taken around to the beat of two plays again this year, Much Ado About Nothing and later in the summer a production of Treasure Island.
Braving some threatening skies, the team kicked off in fine style with this twisting, pun-filled and wordplay heavy piece. Through these it remains fantastically accessible, with a plot, or several plots really, that are very easily followed. Famous for it’s tricks and turns, it’s helped by the playful nature of this cast to deliver a solid evening, though a few kinks may have to get shaken out as the run progresses.
Returning from an unspecified conflict in the early 1900s, Don Pedro and his men have clearly been away a while. Welcomed by Leonato and his household, Don Pedro’s friend Count Claudio falls instantly in love with his daughter Hero, while his other, Benedick, falls back into his mutual antagonism with Hero’s cousin Beatrice whom he has known for years. However, no one expects the treachery of Don Pedro’s brother Don John so when he decides to prevent happiness falling on our heros, it causes major confusion and repercussions.
Returning for another season are Nick-Howard-Brown and Anne-Marie Piazza as the battling comedic powerhouse of the play, Benedick and Beatrice. Lunging into the dialogue, these two twirl around each other making lightness shine through some otherwise reasonably sombre moments. The characters are the comedy in this piece (barring some little moments from the others), but in the delivery it sets up a real contrast between these two and the other characters who, whilst no doubt playing well, don’t match the energy and bounce created so overall we have quite an uneven texture.
The same can be said of the tone. The comedic element is strong, and it may seem bizarre to say, but in this piece where tragedy and comedy are so interlaced, more danger and malice in the atmosphere could have brought more of an even balance to the play.
Shakespeare must have been in a merry mood when he set this work down, containing as it does, some of his classic jibes and picks at men and women individually, their relationships and the society they form. It’s clever, insightful, funny and mixes levity and more straightforward storytelling. Amy Draper’s direction keeps it surprising and fresh at each turn, managing to hold attention and momentum through the audience and scene moves, delivering a play that does certainly stand up. It’s one that deserves a very happy month’s run, but if it evolves at all through the run to challenge its audiences a little more the returns could be even greater.
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By Karl O’Doherty
22nd June – 22nd July.
Covent Garden, London WC2E 9ED.