Tag Archives: Conor Cook

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Much Ado About Nothing

★★★

Jack Studio Theatre

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Jack Studio Theatre

★★★

 

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

“Musical interludes are nicely performed with some strong vocals”

 

Outdoor specialists Bear in the Air Productions bring their summer production inside to the intimacy of the Jack Studio Theatre. Pared down to just six players by Director Heather Simpkin and with a running time of less than two hours, it’s a merry romp through Shakespeare’s popular comedy. But it doesn’t transfer inside well: the space is cramped compared to the great outdoors and, after a long and hot summer season, the ensemble appears tired. Simpkin’s adaptation works well though. With some major cuts to the text, and important lines reassigned to different characters, the plot rolls through apace. This does though leave little space for characters to breathe or for us to see gradual changes in their development. This is particularly a loss when it comes to the all-important exchanges between our heroes Beatrice and Benedick.

The entire cast is almost ever-present on stage, often taking seats at the back when not directly involved in the action. Hannah Eggleton (Beatrice) has a huge presence here, actively listening to the goings-on and reacting accordingly. There’s many a smile, nod and knowing look towards the audience, perhaps more than necessary in this space. She is at her most convincing when defending the wronged Hero and her demand to ‘kill Claudio’ is chillingly done. Ross Telfer (Benedick), with an Errol Flynn moustache and wispy facial hair, plays the seasoned bachelor closer to ‘less than a man’ than expected and is more foolish than erudite.

In a rather nice doubling, these two actors also appear as the bumbling members of the Watch under the leadership of Chief Scout Dogberry (Conor Cook). In a notoriously difficult role Cook plays the troubled character as more quirky than tragic. He also doubles in the roles of Friar – nicely done – and the villain Don John. A black beret and dark sunshades provide the visual clues of John’s inherent nastiness but we would benefit from seeing him as more overtly wicked.

Megan King (Hero & Borachio) is both the innocent blushing beauty – played suitably coyly – and the servant responsible for acting out the charade that leads to Hero’s disgrace. The latter role, dressed in flat cap and Barbour jacket, requires a more masculine or conniving approach. Toby George-Waters (Claudio) gives the performance of the night as Hero’s would-be wooer and then accuser. His initial boyish enthusiasm to seeing a pretty girl contrasts well with his later despair and George-Waters is convincing throughout.

Much of the work of holding this condensed adaption together falls upon the reliable Charles Stobert (Don Pedro). In the central scene of the evening, Pedro and Claudio create the opportunity for mayhem with a traditional moving garden trellis scene in which to trick Benedick and a more ambitious hiding beneath a picnic rug scene for Beatrice. In a production that is generally rather static, these scenes stand out for their stagecraft, well-executed.

Musical interludes are nicely performed with some strong vocals, especially from Stobert, and decent harmonies. The song of the night, Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ (reprising its use as a dance floor filler in the film Pulp Fiction) is a surprisingly relevant inclusion. Well sung, but dancing could do with improvement!

Brevity is at the soul of this production. It isn’t an especially deep reading of the play – there isn’t the time – but the adaptation for just six players works well. Better seen outside though, where it belongs, on a warm summer’s evening.

 

 

Reviewed on 25th August 2022

by Phillip Money

Photography courtesy Bear In The Air Productions

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

Holst: The Music in the Spheres | ★★★★★ | January 2022
Payne: The Stars are Fire | ★★★ | January 2022
Richard II | ★★★★★ | February 2022

 

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Provoked thespyinthestalls

The Provoked Wife

The Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 7th September 2017

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

 

“sparkles with fun and mischief from start to finish”

 

 

What a lovely romp! This contemporary take on Restoration comedy sparkles with fun and mischief from start to finish. Hannah Boland Moore’s direction is spot on, weaving a world for the characters to inhabit with minimal set and props, and creating moments of true comic genius.

Provoked

The play is perfectly cast, and there is not a weak link in the talented and energetic company, who are clearly having a lot of fun with this story of love, betrayal and scandal. They are so at home with the seventeenth century language that it is as natural as our everyday speech and doesn’t jar at all with the contemporary setting.

The play opens at a music festival, setting the scene for revelry and seduction. Will Kelly’s Sir John Brute has already had enough of marriage after only two years and he lets his poor wife know all about it. Kelly’s performance is assured and convincing, we wonder from very early in the play how his poor wife can bear him. Meg Coombs brings a mix of vulnerability and determination to her Lady Brute, her marriage is a mess and she is tempted by the attentions of Constant, a sweet young man who is in love with her.

Will she or won’t she? Will Hearle’s Constant is adorably tongue-tied when he sees the object of his affections, torn between honorable behaviour and the desire for his love. Into this mix enters Lady Fanciful, played with a wonderful vivacity and plentiful hair flicking by Jessie Lilly. She loves to stir up trouble and thinks herself the most beautiful woman in town. She is supported in this fancy by her french maid, Mademoiselle, Sophie Alexander, who fizzes with catty sycophancy. Constant’s friend, Heartfree, tries to school Lady Fanciful and swears he will never fall in love, but will he? It is Tim Gibson’s Heartfree who most embodies the glorious sense of mischief at the heart of the play. His eyes sparkle as he plots, and his energy and joie-de-vivre are infectious.

Conor Cook has the tricky task of being largely in the background for most of the action. When his character Lovewell steps out of the shadows he does a great job of unleashing chaos and trying to sort out the tangled web he has helped to weave. Lady Brute’s niece Belinda is a forthright young woman, played with cheeky effervescence by Claudia Campbell, and in her we, perhaps, see a critique of the way in which women were supposed to behave in late seventeenth century England, and sometimes still are, even today. She speaks her mind and is never punished for it. Quite the opposite in fact.

When Vanbrugh was writing this play women were still a novelty on stage and his female characters in this play show a desire to escape from the strictures of their proscribed roles. Lady Brute and Belinda are a delightful pair, and were first played by two of the first, highly celebrated actresses, Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle.

I like to think that that indomitable pair would approve of this version of The Provoked Wife, with it’s faithfulness to the text and spirit of the original and it’s glorious contemporary relevance and fun.

 

Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Toby Lee

 

 

THE PROVOKED WIFE

is at The Hope Theatre until 23rd September

 

 

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