Moreover, that ‘combative’ is appropriate to this here as we are not in Shakespeare’s Sicilian Messina but in a more poignant post Afghanistan garrison town, ‘Messina-Upon-Thames’. The returning soldiers, weary from fighting, pass their newfound leisure time in devising schemes and sharpening their wits on each other. A contemporary setting is sometimes difficult to pull off but here it worked perfectly. It certainly added an edge to the play, a play that on the page relies on verbal dexterity and wit. Without the reinterpretation and enthusiastic approach, it could so easily be dry and challenging.
Furthermore, choreographed by Sammy Fonfe and music by Benjamin Hudson it resulted in an exciting, modern and accessible production.
I have one concern though. The drama takes place ‘in the round’ making the most of St James’s Church. Yet, on several occasions, I was unable to appreciate some of the nuances or even at times fully hear some of the dialogue. Actors standing four-square in front of me blocked my view. For example when Beatrice, eavesdrops on Hero and Ursula I was unaware of her reactions to the ‘false sweet bait’ that they lay before her. How did she react? Was it with scorn or with baffled amusement? It would have helped in my understanding, especially as I came relatively new to the work.
All the performances were spot on especially the protagonists, Max Roll’s Benedick, Dani McCallum’s Beatrice, Lucy Grattan’s Hero and finally Phil Dunster as Claudio. To be fair, the rest of the cast ably supported them including the ‘interns’, those ‘aspiring professional actors’ who took on the lesser roles.
This was the third Shakespeare they have produced and it is to their credit that the company are bringing professional theatre to Reading. Something we desperately needed. I am not the only one saying this and it was good to see that even The Guardian chose Much Ado as one of its ‘top tickets’ this week. Praise indeed.
This is an edited version of a review published in The Weekly Newbury News, February 12th 2015.
Image © Ian Legge