It is difficult to think of a more enjoyable theatrical experience than Wimborne Drama Productions’ open-air Much Ado About Nothing in the delightful grounds of the Deans Court Estate. It is Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedy, although there are darker undertones to a plot that is populated by wonderful characters who are as meaningful today as when the play was written in 1599.
Director Tracey Nichols has chosen to emulate the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 production by setting the play in 1919, when a group of soldiers home from the Great War arrive at the home of Baronet (of Deans Court says the programme in a tribute to the venue) Leonato. This setting works well and is enhanced by brief moments of Noel Coward singing and of the leading characters dancing the Charleston. As a result, the production has great vitality throughout.
Every character is excellently portrayed. Don Pedro (Chris Durham) is magnificently princely with his pipe in hand for much of the time, while his illegitimate brother, Don John (Rob Cording-Cook), is suitably sinister. Claudio (David Beddard) is sincerely romantic. Leonato (Anthony Wyld) displays a relaxed aristocracy, as do the other members of his family, while daughter, Hero (Beanie Wyld) is a father’s delight. Benedick (Sam Moulton) and Beatrice (Beverley Beck), whose relationship begins with mutual misogamy, end the action dancing together and about to marry; their relationship is very well portrayed at each stage of its development. The facial expressions of maids Margaret (Michelle Barter) and Ursula (Ann McColgan-Clark), who have a significant role in encouraging the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, are most entertaining. Constable Dogberry (David Pile) and his assistant, Verges (Jenny Hughes), delight the audience with their antics while apprehending villains Conrade (Calum Hearne) and Borachio (John Sivewright).
The darker undertones come when Claudio rejects Hero at the altar as they are about to be married, as the result of a plot instigated by the jealous machinations of Don John. This scene has the audience wholly moved by the reactions of Leonato and his daughter, Hero. The comedy is at its height, however, during the scenes in which Benedick hides in the room in which Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio describe the love that Beatrice has for him in the knowledge that he is listening and with the aim of promoting a relationship between them. Similarly, Beatrice is hiding in the room while Hero and Ursula describe the love that Benedick has for her with the same intent. These scenes are a comedic delight as Benedick hides under a table and then with his head in a standard lamp, while poor Beatrice is watered as she hides behind a potted plant.
The director and her talented, energetic cast have created a production that has verve and vivacity throughout and is endowed with a modern atmosphere, while the creative team ensure that each scene is set up on the simple stage with imperceptible efficiency. A good sound system means that every word of dialogue is heard.
This is a Wimborne Drama production not to be missed. There are performances on 7 and 8 July at 7.00 and on 9 July at 5.00. Remember to take your own chairs.