Tag Archives: Jean Chan

Much Ado About Nothing

★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 13th November 2019

★★★★

 

“Reaching inventive new heights without pretension, this production feels fresh, striving to relate to its audience”

 

Love is a fickle old thing that can make a person crazy. It can drive wedges between friendships and cause chaos all around it. In an exciting new adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, presented by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, such effects of love are all on display. Razor-sharp in delivery, this intelligent retelling is as joyously entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

A group of soldiers are on leave from war, and accept the invite of staying with Leonato, the Governor of Messina, and his family, for a few days. What ensues is a gush of mixed emotions as the heady concoction of civilian life, falling in and out of love, and trickery befalls on the party.

Director Elizabeth Freestone has done a tremendous job in finding some original ways of reimagining Much Ado, giving it fresh meaning. The use of filming from phones is an ingenious take on the original text. It firmly places the story in 2019, giving the play a chance to explore current issues such as fake news, online trolling and abuse through social media, which completely works. It makes the premise seem far more plausible for a 21st century audience, and proves that a 400-year old text still has relevance. The hilarious use of fancy dress (I won’t give away the costume theme) during the integral masked ball, is another moment of modernisation that Freestone has so brilliantly encompassed. Despite perhaps being used in other recent Shakespeare adaptations, the fancy dress concept is still clever and highly jubilant.

There’s an electric energy between Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Geoffrey Lumb as the conflicting lovers Beatrice and Benedick, both actors making the witty put downs towards one another fizz and crackle. Myer-Bennett in particular is on plucky form, doing complete justice to arguably Shakespeare’s best written female role. The whole cast should be applauded for really making the text their own, never shying away from originality or the unconventional, yet always making sure it is rooted in truth.

Freestone reveals that she aims for a 50/50 gender balance in her productions meaning gender-blind casting for some of the roles. Here, the melancholy meddler and villain of the show Don Jon, and the jobs-worth constable Dogberry have been given to female actors (Georgia Frost and Louise Mai Newberry) which fits naturally. As women are holding higher positions within the workplace and many more joining military forces, Freestone’s decision reflects this justly. Both actors revel in their parts, Frost bringing a jealous capriciousness, and Newberry an irresistible sass.

Music, as always with Shakespeare, plays a big part. Not only is it used in this production for transitions or decorative embellishment, but entwined within the story, utilised for comic effect and the like. Bethan Mary-James as likeable Margaret, the singer and waiting lady to Hero, is congenitally attached to a ukulele, who strums away to the annoyance or delight of the other characters.

Much Ado is heralded a comedy, but this recent offering from the Tobacco Factory really highlights the surprisingly darker, more tragic elements to the tale. Creating a much needed juxtaposition from the laughs and tomfoolery, the characters go on a believable roller coaster ride of emotions. Reaching inventive new heights without pretension, this production feels fresh, striving to relate to its audience.

 

Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Mark Douet

 


Much Ado About Nothing

Wilton’s Music Hall until 23rd November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Shape Of the Pain | ★★★★★ | March 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Sweet Science Of Bruising | ★★★★ | June 2019
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story | ★★★★★ | September 2019
This Is Not Right | ★★★★ | October 2019

 

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The Hired Man
★★★

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

The Hired Man

The Hired Man

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Reviewed – 30th April 2019

★★★

 

“the songs range from rousing ensemble numbers through romantic duets and tortured solos in time-honoured musical theatre fashion”

 

The Hired Man was published in 1969; the first part of Melvyn Bragg’s Cumbrian trilogy. It is set in and around a small Cumbrian village and follows the fortunes of John Tallentire, a farm labourer and miner, from his youth at the turn of the century, through the first World War, until the time just after his wife’s death, about twenty years later. Bragg wrote it as a homage to his grandfather, and it is an unashamedly nostalgic take on Britain’s rural past.

The story begins at a hiring fair, and John is taken on as a farm labourer. His young wife Emily comes to the town to join him, but her eye soon strays and she finds herself yearning for another local man, Jackson Pennington, who begs her to leave with him. John discovers their love and the men fight. Emily stays with her husband. Act two is set sixteen years later. John is now a miner, and he and Emily have teenage children. WWI then enters the story. John, his brothers and his son Harry (just shy of eighteen) join up and Harry dies. John returns, narrowly escapes a mining disaster, Emily dies, and John rejoins the ranks of hired men to re-begin his life on the land.

It’s a straightforward tale, and is ably told, by an energetic cast of actor-musicians. Jean Chan’s production design is well realised, and Douglas Rintoul directs with a sure hand. There are some striking stage moments – the trenches and the mining rescue are particularly effective – and the songs range from rousing ensemble numbers through romantic duets and tortured solos in time-honoured musical theatre fashion, but there is nothing here to really seize the imagination or the heart.

Oliver Hembrough and Lauryn Redding take the main roles of John and Emily, and each gives a committed and connected performance, but the pedestrian nature of so many of the songs, both lyrically and musically, means that they can never really take flight. Similarly, Samuel Martin was in good voice and exuded charm as John’s devil-may-care brother Isaac, but he had nowhere to go dramatically, and despite losing his leg in the war, remained the same sporting fellow he was when he first appeared.

Ultimately, The Hired Man is a one-dimensional nostalgic confection. There is no complexity of plot or character; men work, drink, fight and sport, and women exist purely in the domestic sphere. It is a version of England with which we are all familiar, and has been continually repackaged for the past 100 years, from the Hovis ads to Call the Midwife. ‘I’d be happy in a place like this/Now I see what I’ve always missed’, Emily’s daughter sings at the beginning of the second act. The key to this show is whether or not you agree with her.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Mark Sepple

 


The Hired Man

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 18th May

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rope | ★★★★ | February 2018
The Game of Love and Chai | ★★★ | April 2018
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert | ★★★ | May 2018
Abi | ★★★★ | September 2018
Abigail’s Party | ★★★½ | September 2018
Once | ★★★★★ | October 2018
Haunting Julia | ★★ | November 2018

 

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