This intimate outdoor gathering at St. Peter Port Market Square is blessed with a peaceful, sunny summer evening. With a select number of seats set in the foreground, arched pillars and a balcony, and simple yet effective shrubs to set the scene, it is all too easy to imagine you are sitting in some idyllic Tuscan village.
Director Maggie Edwards' production of Much Ado About Nothing is no less idyllic. With an unpretentious and natural atmosphere, the audience is instantly drawn into the light-hearted surroundings of Leonato’s household. Careful and fantastically original direction by Edwards makes by far the biggest impact upon this performance. With an intimate, yet difficult audience layout to perform before, Edwards' direction shows a deep and masterful manipulation of the text. This is most evident in the scenes where Beatrice (Maggie Edwards) and Benedick (Dave King) are tricked by each of their trusted friends into believing that each is in love with the other. Delightfully hilarious, especially with Leonato’s (David Hedges) contribution, these scenes take part side by side, one freezing whilst the other continues, until they culminate with both Beatrice and Benedick’s acceptance of each other’s supposed love. Each simultaneous scene melds into one with an enormous force of momentum. Aside from the clinical benefits of saving time with this technique, the combining of these scenes in this way beautifully illustrates the many similarities between these two people—so frightened by the idea of being in love, and yet so clearly meant for each other.
Hedges gives a performance with much presence; his stature as head of the household is easily perceived, and yet his loving, kind nature also has space to shine. Beatrice, too, is headstrong and feisty as she should be. Claudio (Alan J. Mirren), although aptly naive in his delivery, seems like the one who still has "a rougher task in hand," rather than the peaceful victim of love that he has supposedly become. Rob Witcomb’s performance of both Don John and Dogberry are a wonderful surprise, and demonstrate his brilliant acting versatility to the great delight of the audience. Dogberry has the audience in fits of giggles at several stages, as too does King in many of his scenes. Although much of the audience’s delight lies in the countless witty lines with which his character is blessed, King’s perfectly executed physical comedy adds just the right splash of illumination to Shakespeare’s hilarious lines.
With a wonderful display of delights and comedy, this production is a warm and incredibly refreshing interpretation of a well-loved play, with most excellent performances in so many of the lead roles. The final scene of singing and dancing so aptly and joyfully sums up the mood of the evening. It is a shame something similar could not have been executed for the masquerade scene—a simple, yet effective alternative to the dancers’ interlude that occurs. Despite beautiful surroundings and a heart-warming performance, this cast deserves a much larger platform and greater recognition than this small arena can provide. Nevertheless, this is a performance of truly high standards.