EFR - Reviews of Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Mon 15th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Christopher Archibald

at 21:27 on 16th Aug 2016

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A Sudden Impulse Theatre Company offers up a traditional garden performance of Shakespeare’s 'Much Ado About Nothing'. The relaxed, Greenside garden is the perfect picturesque setting and with a script like this you cannot go too far wrong – in theory that is. However, the play’s darker moments and subtle character dynamics are lost in pursuit of cheap laughs and clumsy slapstick.

The acting is camped up, bordering on hammy, and exaggerated facial expressions and cringe-making physical comedy mar the production from the start. The actors put lots of energy into their performances, but it seems the direction is a little misguided. The infatuated Claudio (Sam Bates) accidentally-on-purpose falls into Hero (Eleanor Charman), Benedick (Phil Malkin) inexplicably cross-dresses for half the play, and Beatrice (Bridie Vowles) blows a raspberry at Benedick. Such moments are generally well received by the good-natured audience (interestingly a slightly older crowd than other Fringe shows), but they undoubtedly detract from the play overall. It is hard to claw back any chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick after these initial interactions, whilst the wedding scene, the play’s dramatic centre, is treated as an unfortunate interruption. Not only was the blocking of this scene uninteresting with the cast standing in a straight line, turning their heads like a crowd at a tennis match, but the delivery of what should be vicious and even tragic lines is underwhelming to say the least. After Hero faints, she is repeatedly dropped by Friar Francis and Beatrice: a cheap laugh that makes Beatrice’s anger in defence of Hero laughable and completely undermines any potential emotional impact.

Admittedly, the show sells itself as a ‘classic comedy’ and much of the audience seemed to enjoy it as such. Yet, if this production had trusted the Bard’s script a little more not only would the play have achieved a more engaging variety of tones, but might have been a little funnier as well. Dogberry’s famous malapropisms are awkwardly skimmed over and the pretentious affectation they suggest entirely left out of Nathan Harvey’s characterisation. Don John and the villains’ insouciance isn’t backed up by any threat or malice, which is partly due to cuts, but also part of a general lack of subtlety.

If you’re looking for an hour and a half of emphatically unpretentious, old-school slapstick, this is your show. For most however, this just won’t do justice to Shakespeare’s original and at worst becomes mildly irritating as it goes on. With a large, mostly talented cast, great script and perfect setting this should have been brilliant, but the direction is misjudged, the delivery overdone, and the characterisation as subtle as the cast of a 'Carry On' film.

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Alice Harper

at 21:39 on 16th Aug 2016

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In the 400th year after Shakespeare's death, Sudden Impulse Theatre offer a fairly traditional take on 'Much Ado About Nothing'. The success of productions of this play often depends largely on the level of chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick. Bridie Vowles and Phil Malkin achieve this with their performances. They work well together to create convincing and funny banter, complete with exasperated sighs and sarcastic smirks on both sides.

This production definitely indulges in the sillier moments of Shakespeare’s comedy; Benedick dons a flouncy dress and puts on a high voice for the masquerade scene when Beatrice taunts him, and continues to stagger around in his frock for several scenes. The scenes in which the other characters conspire to trap Beatrice and Benedick are also very silly, with the two unaware characters hiding unsuccessfully behind various props. Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio’s taunting of Benedick also involves a lot of water being thrown around, which doesn't make a lot of sense but is fun nonetheless.

The majority of the performances are very exaggerated and verging on camp, but this doesn't feel incongruous with the tone of the production. Some Shakespeare adaptations are gritty and thoughtful, and others are unashamedly fun and don't take themselves too seriously. The only performances that feel a little underplayed by comparison are those of Borracio and Don John. As the villains of the piece, their evil natures could have done with a little camp to make them match the rest of the show. Apart from the occasional evil chuckle, these two make rather underwhelming villains. In particular, the scene when Borracio drunkenly reveals his and Don John’s plot feels like a bit of an anticlimax. With a little more build up, or perhaps even more exaggeration, this moment might have appeared more pivotal to the plot and more exciting as a result.

This performance of 'Much Ado about Nothing' is, overall, an enjoyable watch. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking in the adaptation, and the acting might be a little overplayed for some. However, this is definitely a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon if you are a Shakespeare fan and don't want something too intense or challenging.

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