I can imagine Shakespeare’s audience trudging through a wet London, transported to the warmer climes of Messina, to see a play about love. The MTC had the benefit of not needing a roof. Glorious sunshine overlooking a stage simply set to evoke the spirit of warm renaissance Italian nights on the terrace. Picnic chairs and a clink of glasses. An irresistible spirit on a hot July night.
The director, Brian Stansbridge, is right. Gender politics plays a large part why this is more ado in Much Ado. Elizabethan men saw that the role of women in society was diversifying (Beatrice) but also, where more traditionally modelled (Hero), they could not depend solely on a jolly machismo to see them through. Male interaction with women – which was being shown to be more attuned and worldwide – required an adjustment. It is that interplay that is the undercurrent. The comedy is at the heart of it.
In this production, the first half transports the audience to our salad days. Halcyon they are! The large and strong ensemble cast showed great unity and zip in bringing a spirit of silly summer evenings, where love is hanging in the breeze, mistakes and villainess deeds are brewing. The second half is always tricky, as it forces a sort of operatic melodrama in the wronged Hero narrative. From a narrative point of view, it is always something of a relief when Claudio has done his required penance, we can all forget about being wronged, and get back to the party.
From Lee Taylor pedaling on to kick off the proceedings, this was a warm and engaging cast that were to provide the audience some respite for a few hours. Beatrice (Anna Hussey) had great fluidity and comic timing, shared by Benedick (Sam Hussey). Their interpretation of the narrative was more whimsical and flirtier than the usual battle of wits, a refreshing change. Hero (Katherine Evans) and Claudio (Calum Daly) were equally imaginative in lifting the play; Anna with a great naturalness and Calum in his ability to stay the right side of subtext.
Ironically for a play about gender politics some of the best scenes were when the men and the women were separated – my highlight – probably everyone’s – being the much-loved individual ‘deception’ of both Benedick, and then Beatrice. This included some lovely interaction with Adam Taussik and Jo Fox. Often the songs are left out and, whilst they will never win Novello awards, Chris Williams made them his own. I had a soft spot for the old guard in Phillp de Grouchy (Leonato). A more watchy ‘watch’ I can’t remember but they were fun – all of them. It’s impossible to mention everyone – it’s always the case that the villains are the first to go in a review: Alec Sleigh, Jez Minns, David Jobson. But the real message is that everyone played their part, everyone entertained and it was a job well done.
I would like to make a call out to the staff behind the scenes – loved the costumes Susan Wilson, nice lighting Clive Weeks – but the biggest shout out is to the stream of parking volunteers, front of house, audience assistants. Free insect repellant in the interval? Whatever next! This was a swarm of folk giving up their time to make us feel safe, welcome, and appreciated. It’s so important, and congratulations to you all.
Safe to say you leave this production in the grounds and grandeur of the Townhill Park House knowing that summer has arrived. I am in love. Loved it.