Much Ado about Nothing
Rose Theatre Kingston
Reviewed – 18th April 2018
“an explosive, enigmatic and enticing night at the theatre”
Almost a triumph, Simon Dormandy’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ proves both accessible and aspirational. The production overflows with clarity as the clearly capable cast generally ignore Shakespeare’s iambs and focus on providing the audience with the opportunity to understand every word. This is no mean feat in a play renowned for its complexity in that so much of its dialogue is reported action, instead of demonstrated drama.
Meanwhile, it is no secret that this production’s appeal for many lies in its starry headline. Mel Giedroyc steps into her first Shakespearean role with confidence and cleverness as her aptitude in making the funny even funnier doesn’t go unnoticed. She never misses an opportunity to reward the audience with a giggle and Beatrice’s scathing wit rolls off her tongue with great naturalism. She does, however, at times appear awkward in her movement; and seems unable to remain still and truthful in some moments of drama. The production relies, for example, on simplicity, stillness and honesty when Claudio outrageously confronts Hero on their wedding day, but Giedroyc’s overacting risks the integrity of such a potentially crushing scene.
John Hopkins shines as Benedick with a hearty, loveable and yet somehow roguish performance and Kate Lamb boldly proves that Hero is not the doormat she is often believed to be. A special mention must be afforded to Calam Lynch’s Claudio. It is Lynch’s theatrical debut and his boyish innocence works in tandem with his steely conviction to illicit a truly astonishing portrayal of a young man desperate to love.
The one let down of the production comes in the form of its anticlimactic finale. As Shakespeare’s final reveal of the alive and well Hero ought to dominate and provide a joyous final scene, the audience remained as unmoved as the characters did. With so little a reaction from those on stage, it seems too much for Dormandy to ask his audience to react at all.
The production handles the comedic moments of this iconic play with intellect and bravery, but generally struggles with the more serious scenes. A bizarre dance in the second wedding scene confuses the audience, but the superb on-stage band delights them throughout. The saving grace for the play lies in its cast. The four lead actors bounce refreshingly off of each other and provide an explosive, enigmatic and enticing night at the theatre.
Reviewed by Sydney Austin
Photography by Mark Douet
Much Ado about Nothing
Rose Theatre Kingston until 6th May
Passage to India
Reviewed – 23rd February 2018
“A dynamic medley of devices, all enacted with the best intentions, but the overall effect is a bit of a jumble”
Within the first few moments of the play, we are thrown into the crux of the story: “One cannot be friends with the English”. This is articulated by Dr Aziz, the Muslim doctor at the heart of “A Passage To India”, based on E. M. Forster’s 1924 novel. Set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian Independence Movement in the run up to the First World War, the question – how can we love one another in a world divided by culture and belief – is what drives this drama.
A young British schoolmistress, Adela Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs Moore, are visiting India, primarily for Adela to decide if she wants to marry Mrs Moore’s son, Ronny, a local city magistrate. During a trip to the fictitious Marabar Caves, Adela thinks she finds herself alone with Dr. Aziz in one of the caves (when in fact he is in an entirely different cave), and subsequently panics and flees; it is assumed that Dr. Aziz has attempted to assault her. Aziz’s trial, and its run-up and aftermath, bring to a boil the common racial tensions and prejudices between Indians and the British who rule India.
Simple8’s production tackles these issues, with a spirited mix of physical drama, expositional dialogue, internal monologue and original live music. A dynamic medley of devices, all enacted with the best intentions, but the overall effect is a bit of a jumble. The key topics lose weight under the lightness with which they are treated, which is no bad thing in itself, but the polemic is often wooden and the conversation peppered with laboured platitudes. There are exceptions. Asif Khan, who plays the sympathetic local physician Dr Aziz, and Liz Crowther’s Mrs Moore exemplify best the dichotomy of the relations among the Britons and the Indians. When they first meet in a mosque the doctor blindly chides the English woman for profaning his scared place, but is then disarmed by her respect for the native customs and they become friends. There is a rare warmth and empathy between these characters that unfortunately is too often absent elsewhere.
Where Simon Dormandy’s adaptation does shine, however, is when the characters step free from the action to address the audience. These more internalised moments allow for a crescendo of the live music, which elevates the drama immeasurably. The score, played live by the composer Kuljit Bhamra and musician Asha McCarthy is the highlight of the evening, but sadly underused.
Dormandy, who also directs with Sebastian Armesto, eschews the use of props and set, but unwittingly the characters and scenes suffer too. The complexity is reduced to a series of soundbites and the poignancy is often lost, although the committed cast do rescue the production and enable us to see the potential and the possible richness of the material that is hinted at. However, we never really get to the heart of the matter – the tensions and the dualities. Nor do we get a real sense of the over-riding mystery: Forster took great care in his novel to strike a distinction between the ideas of the “muddle” and “mystery” of India. This production, however, serves to blur the distinction. It is more muddle than mystery.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Idil Sukan
Passage to India
Park Theatre until 24th March