Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, which is at Theatr Clwyd until Saturday 2nd July.
Theatre Clwyd celebrates its forth decade this year by trying something I’ve never seen it do before. Director Tamara Harvey has taken the main, traditionally end–on, auditorium and converted it into a temporary traverse venue. The rear stalls are blocked off and new a new tier erected at the back of the ample stage. So audience faces audience – and the romping goes on in between.
It is however impossible to repeal the laws of acoustics. The space was designed to be played one way and, in the preview I saw, the lighter voices were still occasionally struggling to be heard. Also, comedy depends on eye contact; try telling someone a joke with your back to them. For the second half I moved to the stage seating – without benefit. So instead of the desired effect of gossipy intimacy, the lost lines distanced me. Which is a pity because the production is jolly good.
Benedick and Beatrice are cast in middle age – so here are two more 40 year olds in the throws of experimentation. John Ramm’s Benedick is a bald headed, battle dressed, Sandhurst man of the Mess. He’s more than old enough to be a really confirmed bachelor, who’d rather be hanged than married. Lisa Palfrey’s Beatrice is a harpie on the cusp of her frumpy years; complete with bird’s nest hair, questionable dress sense and a Barry Island accent. Both reluctant lovers are firmly in the last chance saloon…which gives an added piquancy to their mutual bear bating…and an extra desperation to the meddlers who would see them spliced.
Their cagey, opening gambits are played out on a huge Port Meirion chessboard flanked by orangeries; which provide cover for listening, and ammunition for assault. Throwing bits of orange about is an excellent way of taking the pith.
The farcical comedy is excellent throughout; especially the two powder blue uniformed police officers; Kerry Peers as Constable Ursula and Sion Pritchard, who plays Dogberry as a short, Welsh, Eric Morecambe.
As ever, Sian Howard as Leonata is a class act. She possess the stage and drives the story. Her inner conviction also makes the climax of the subplot almost believable. Shakespeare’s humiliation of her young daughter Hero (Lowri Palfrey) is hard for modern audiences to stomach. The totally innocent girl is accused of adultery, and abandoned – on purely unfounded rumour – by the man who claims to love her. A yet she pliantly forgives him and marries him.
Shakespeare requires even her own mother to turn vindictive. Fortunately Sian Howard has the presence and stature as an actor to be faithful to both the text and her daughter. And so the scene is accomplished well, despite the inherent difficulties.
All this is set in the 60s; which gives designer Janet Bird permission to have great fun with costumes and foliage. The set piece masquerade is a striking two-tone affair, which gives rise to a fleetingly clever game of ‘Find The Lady’ – as Benedick tries to work out who is who.
And Richard Hammarton has wickedly set Shakespeare’s sonnets to 60s psychedelic music or, in one particularly effective case, a Jose Feliciano-style salsa for Catherine Morris to exuberantly sing.
So there is plenty to admire in this fun and games production. My tip is to sit as near to the action as possible.