With the sound of guns shooting and planes soaring over head, The Rose Playhouse’s production of Much Ado About Nothing seemed to start off on a rather bleak note for the usually upbeat comedy. The space itself is cavernous and foreboding as well. Technically still an archaeological site, only a waist-high fence separated the audience from the large ruins of the traditional Tudor theatre and stage. Flooded with gloomy low lighting and three morose looking figures stand in the corner of the stone theatre just out of our reach as we take our seats. A quick and jaunty announcement that ‘Hitler has surrendered!’ and a cry of joy from the figures skulking in the dark quickly cuts through the despair, starting the show and switching the atmosphere to the jovial one expected.
As the show starts, it quickly becomes apparent that the majority of the production will not take place in the mysterious cavern just a stone’s throw away, but in the small playing space directly in front of the audience. The feel instantly changes from dramatic and epic to something much more intimate and charming. Not to worry for those instantly intrigued by the historic space in front of them though, it makes a comeback at various points of the show. Director, Alex Pearson effectively uses it to underscore dramatic and elicit moments- the vastness of the space giving a dash of grandiose to the otherwise small.
In the joy of post WWII England, the characters celebrate the end of the war as Don Pedro (Ian Hathway), Claudio (Clark Alexander), and Benedick (Adam Elliott) return home, the villainous Don John (Robert Hazle) in tow. The romance starts immediately with Claudio falling for Hero (Genie Kaminski), though the argumentative Benedick and Beatrice (Rhiannon Sommers) steal the show. Both Elliot and Sommers take the already clever and quick lines and make them their own. Elliot’s Benedick is particularly charming and charismatic, especially as he crawls through the audience to overhear others chatting about him, but it’s Sommers’ Beatrice that seems to win the battle of wit. Sommers presents a character assured of her own intelligence and cunning without bothering about whether some truly cutting remarks endear her to others or not. Endlessly fun to watch, this Beatrice truly stole the show.
The rest of the cast performed admirably. While Hero and Don John are both characters that don’t get a lot of chances to be clever or tell jokes, Hazle and Kaminski showed off their comedic chops as the also took on the roles of Dogberry and Conrad respectively. All the clowns making up the watch in this play brought considerable energy and fun to the show, but it was particularly interesting to watch these two actor oscillate between their two roles.
While there were a few flubbed lines, and the main playing space was considerably smaller than first expected, this performance of Much Ado About Nothing used the space well. It features an incredibly endearing cast who were obviously pouring their hearts and souls into their performances. The historical theatre was amazing too. I can’t imagine a better place to experience some very fun, up close and personal Shakespeare.
Much Ado About Nothing is playing The Rose Playhouse until 29/04/2016. For more information and tickets, see The Rose Theatre website.