Reviewed by Roz Carter
Watching ACS Random’s production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Park Theatre is like watching one of those lovely black and white festive films where Bing Crosby tinkles on the piano. Playing at the same time when the bright lights of Panto start blaring out the names of Big Brother contestants, Much Ado brings out the romantic side to the festive season.
Set at Christmas in 1945, the men folk return from war to find their women ready for romance. When staging Shakespeare there can sometimes be a slight worry that the play is being shoehorned into fitting the theme, but here ACS have struck gold! The returning soldiers have clearly seen combat, while the women have had to become strong and self-reliant in their absence. Setting it at Christmas was a stroke of genius as it explains the fizzy giddiness of the masked parties and when Benedict and Beatrice finally get together it has all the makings of a Love Actually scene.
Zahra Mansouri’s design mainly relies on costume to set the scene, although a Christmas tree, paper chains and snowflakes hint at the rationing that is still in place. Mansouri has the cast in gorgeous period costumes, with the ladies in victory rolls and the chaps in military garb. Jo Walker’s sound design has traditional Christmas carols interspersed with crackly Glenn Miller records and wireless broadcasts to give the show a lovely texture and depth.
The cast knock this show out of the park. All of them have a naturalness about them which instantly puts the audience at ease (no easy feat to do in the round!) and even when the focus is shifted from their particular character, each actor is so intriguing, my eyes could hardly keep up. As Benedict, Garry Summers is charming and charismatic and the perfect foil to Libby Evan’s sparky Beatrice. Summers and Evans have the sort of chemistry that hundreds of rom-coms have tried to recreate and if I could bottle it, I would sell it to scientists as an alternative energy source.
But this is by no means a two person show. As Claudio, Andrew Venning gives a quietly powerful performance and his heart break when he suspects Hero’s disloyalty is palpable. Now Hero is not normally a role I care for, but both Scarlett Clifford and Julian Bird as Leonarto break down with such devastation and fury that the father daughter relationship is suddenly thrust into the forefront. A special mention must be given to Gordon Ridot’s Doggbery and Catherine Nix-Collins’ Vergers who turn The Watch into Inspector Clueso style spies with hilarious consequences.
If you’re looking for a show to get you in the festive spirit but can’t face hundreds of screaming children, then go and see this production. It’s fantastic to see Shakespeare produced so cleverly and is the gold standard of what studio sized shows should be. A grown up Christmassy themed show that had me beaming with joy!
On a slight side note, if you haven’t visited the Park Theatre then I recommend you take your oyster card, hop on the tube and go right now. It is a beautiful space with buzzing foyers and incredibly friendly staff. Heck, even if you’re not going to see a show go for the cocktails and theatre dog Hazel!
See Much Ado About Nothing at The Park Theatre, running until 15 December