‘Much Ado’ meets ‘Hollyoaks’. Who’d have thought it?
But Shakespeare’s seasoned singletons, Benedick and Beatrice, translate remarkably well into truculent teenagers….especially in the hands of such starry actors as James Marshall and Alice Butler.
James is very good at being spurned – and Alice is excellent at spurning. He portrays being puzzled and put upon with so much conviction, the audience just wants to mother him. Her tongue is so “shrewd”, it is uncompromisingly wicked. And they look fabulous on stage too. James has the air of an innocent, floppy-haired Boy Band member; whilst Alice’s facial expressions match those of a Liz Hurley who’s just been told she has to make yet another Austin Powers movie. But they both handle Shakespeare’s text in a very comfortable, modern manner – without being the slightest bit phased by its Elizabethan origins. You really could be watching an episode of ‘Hollyoaks’; but with a better plot.
It is however the team work that makes this production tick, as actor after actor steps up to the mark when their moment comes. ‘Soaps’ depend on gossip, tittle-tattle and mindless maliciousness; and director Andrew Bannerman has clearly spotted that ‘Much Ado’ provides them all for his young cast to exploit. The times of ‘trial’, when the ensemble stops joking and the confessions begin, were the most compelling passages.
The stage was peopled with promising actors.
Oliver Turner is a fine orator who makes Shakespeare sing as if The Bard’s a 21st century lyricist. He is blessed with an excellent voice, a naturalist delivery and innovative timing. Playing Leonato, he wears his heart on his sleeve, as he ranges from loving sympathy to absolute outrage with complete understanding. His accusatory scene with Jessica Halliday’s Antonia is a special moment; as the grief and anger flow freely from both.
The subject of their sadness is the ill-use of young Hero. It’s not the part every ambitious actor would want, but I was most impressed with Lily Hayward’s dignified and mature performance. Piety poured from her. Finn Ashley rose well to the role of her hard-hearted suitor…handing the severe mood swing from besotted to bedevilled with convincing contrition. Kai Davies also shone with a most professional portrayal of a highly penitent Borachio.
The ‘Watch’ raised a fair few smiles. Marshalled by Brandon Garner’s pompous and rotund Dogberry (who reminded me of Oliver Hardy) and aided and abetted by a gangly James Townend (in a Stan Laurel hat), the comic line up made the most of their divergent dimensions … as a policeman arrested a villain twice his height.
Inevitably in Youth Theatre, there are women playing men’s part – but Abbie Townend and Jenny Everall turn necessity into advantage with sincere performances as wise and worldly counsellors.
Please excuse me for not mentioning everyone. Judging by the dress rehearsal, no one will let the side down on opening night.
The production also looked extremely good. You could almost smell the Mediterranean. Beverley Baker’s costumes – black capes and blood red frocks – were beautifully set against high, rough-cast, limestone walls. The scene is complete with a fairy-light shrine, so reminiscent of island life. The fact that the tiny Mother Mary within it looked a little like a Barbie Doll who had taken Holy Orders brought a smile to the lips.
The authentic music and celebratory dances set the seal on a well-thought out and pacey production.
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