MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Jack Studio Theatre
“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: