Much Ado At The SJT
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
This joint production between the New Vic and Northern Broadsides does full justice to one of Shakespeare’s greatest but most problematical romantic comedies. Conrad Nelson has relocated Much Ado About Nothing, in his sixteenth and final act of direction for the Broadsides, to 1945 and the end of the War.
The stage is full of returning heroes in imposing RAF blue, purposeful landgirls in green sweaters and passion-killing dungarees and a well-meaning but shambling Home Guard troop - all reminders of the greater struggle that took place overhead. It is, however, the battle of the sexes we most see playing out - to the glorious accompaniment of 1940’s music, chiefly that of the swinging trio, the Andrews Sisters.
Musical Director, Rebekah Hughes, and that ever-inventive choreographer, Beverly Edmunds, pull out all the stops in a series of tuneful tableaux which undoubtedly achieves an apotheosis in the glorious tangle of the masked ball. Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre’s round is the ideal place to showcase their creativity.
The play, of course, belongs to Beatrice and Benedict, who apparently hate each other but don’t really and are clearly meant for each other. This critic has seen some notable pairings over the years, including the director and his future wife Deb McAndrew some twenty years ago, and not least Judi Dench and Donald Sinden in the early 1970s, but Robin Simpson and Isobel Middleton are excellent and lose nothing by comparison to others.
He reveals a mastery of twitchy comic timing while she makes an art form out of disdain and a sense of injured merit. The two scenes in which they are persuaded to conceal themselves in order to be gulled into hearing they love each other provide, as ever, the comic highlights, Benedict clinging to a ladder and Beatrice in a bucket of pigswill. All gloriously madcap. When they are together on stage there is an obvious chemistry between them and the Bard is at his most sunny and funny.
It is the other pairing of lovers, Claudio (Linford Johnson) precipitately falling head over heels with Hero (Sarah Kameela Impey), which provides the dark side of the play and, at times, some slightly uncomfortable viewing.
Though a brave soldier, Claudio is too bashful to reveal his love and has to enlist his commanding officer, Don Pedro (Matt Rixon), to do it for him, behind a mask at the ball.
Claudio’s suspicions that his stand-in might actually be wooing on his own behalf are quickly smoothed over but there is more confusion to follow.
Don John, as malevolent as his brother Don Pedro is genial, has hatched a plot with the scheming Borachio (Anthony Hunt) to make it seem Hero entertains nightly visitors. Richard J Fletcher, slimmed down considerably from his bouncing panto persona, revels in the role of stock machiavel, more closely associated with tragedy.
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Simeon Truby makes a noble Leonato, father of the wronged girl, but when in distraught fashion he fires off his famous line “Why, doth not every earthly thing cry shame upon her?” today’s audience wants and expects more from him on his daughter’s behalf.
Fortunately, the Home Guard stumble upon the plot and under the command of the gloriously malapropising and self-important Dogberry (David Nellist) the truth will eventually come to light - but not before time.
Pretty soon, we are forgetting those painful moments, caught up in the sheer unabashed joy of a double wedding at the end of six years of hostilities between countries – and, er, some little local difficulties between, er, friends.
Much Ado Abut Nothing, by William Shakespeare, is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until 16th March.
All photos by Nobby Clark Photography.
Much Ado At The SJT, 14th March 2019, 9:33 AM