MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
A Made in Colchester production
at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
for The Reviews Hub
No hint of the romance or sunshine of Messina here. We're in the spartan canteen of a British regiment – motto Perfer et Obdura. There's a telly in the corner, a servery, tables for mess and for ping-pong.
A chorus of Homeward Bound, and Don Pedro marches his men in, to be greeted by Essex girl would-be military wives.
It's a bold concept, and Pia Furtado's production does bring some modern insights to what is often considered a romantic comedy. But the 21st century is not a perfect fit, the quick-witted banter sits uneasily amidst the non-verbal popular culture, and of course these men are career soldiers, not aristocratic adventurers. And the harsh lighting casts distracting shadows across faces in the closer confrontations.
But the mischief and the music are very much to the fore. The fancy dress party, with genuinely impenetrable disguises, and the karaoke Sigh No More, are both very successful, (composer is Rebecca Applin) even if there's a bit too much aimless cavorting to pulsing disco beats. The gulling scenes are hampered a little by a lack of camouflage in the canteen – the pleached bower for Beatrice has to be brought on in pots, and Benedick's arbour is a ledge above the servery, where he later dons a tabard and some marigolds. The plot to discredit Hero is brilliantly done, with a borrowed bridal gown in flagrante on the upper level.
After the interval – well into Act Four – things are much darker, both literally and emotionally. The grim reality of the canteen is replaced by a dreamlike shrine to the “dead” Hero. The Madonna – and the bath – have moved down from the light boxes above. The lament at the tomb is movingly sung by the whole company, and the final wedding disco affords an upbeat ending, though, given the effective changes of mood in this production, it's a shame that the party-pooping news of Don John's capture is one of the few significant cuts.
Some lovely performances on offer: Peter Bray and Robyn Cara (making her professional début) are young, ardent lovers, Polly Lister a brooding villain, though the gender switch seems awkward. Paul Ridley brings gravitas to the older officer, and Emmy Stonelake makes the most of the impassioned Friar. Kirsty J Curtis is Hero's maid, Margaret, a typical TOWIE young lady, chewing gum and glottal stops. (Generally the text is well served, although “Yeah” for “Yea” grates.)
The hi-viz vigilantes of the Watch eschew slapstick and easy laughs, and there's a sad lack of chemistry between Danielle Flett's Beatrice and Jason Langley's Benedick, though they bring clarity and passion to the verse, and Flett does a lovely lapwing.
Some striking stage pictures in the later scenes, and the undeniable local resonance, are not quite enough to make this a memorable Much Ado.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Sunday, October 09, 2016
ROMEO A JULIET
Ballet Cymru at the Civic Theatre
This enterprising Newport-based dance company is touring its award winning Romeo a Juliet round England and Wales this autumn and winter.
A young, international cast brings energy and elegance to the familiar tragedy, set to a reduction of the Prokofiev score in a recording by Sinfonia Cymru.
The design, by Georg Meyer-Wiel, uses projection to enhance the depth of the stage and add interest to the simple white shapes of bed and balcony. The costumes, too, are imaginative: monochrome menace for the Capulet gang, a dash of scarlet for Mercutio, gothic black for the Friar.
Andreamaria Battaggia makes a boyishly charming Romeo. He has many touching moments with his Juliet, Gwenllian Davies: the dawn duet, the shared intimacy of the silken sheets. She brings an awkward tension to her work with Mark Griffiths' Paris, and at the end, after a heart-rending pas-de-deux with Romeo embracing her lifeless form, she crawls over the tomb which separates them, vainly reaching for a farewell touch.
Excellent work too from Miguel Fernandes as an extrovert Mercutio, agile even in his death agony, and from company apprentice Ann Wall as a very youthful Lady Capulet, haughty on pointe.
Among the original ideas from choreographers Darius James and Amy Doughty, clogs to add percussion to the dramatic Dance of the Knights.