by Laura Kressly
Outdoor summer touring Shakespeare shows are about as British as they come. This one by Bear in the Air, apart from this short stop at the Jack, is no exception. There’s no dominant production concept, but the cast of six zip through the trimmed down script with confidence and energy. The performances are consistently excellent though some of the directorial choices mean there are issues.
Hannah Eggleton and Ross Telfer as Beatrice and Benedick have fantastic chemistry and clear character arcs. Telfer starts out as a petulant man baby who can’t bear having his masculinity questioned, and Eggleton is brash and playful. As they are manipulated into falling in love with each other and Hero and Claudio’s marriage is sabotaged, they grow up a lot. Their gravitas and vulnerability shine. However, Eggleton throws away some of her angrier lines, which keeps her character on the lighter side. This fits with the tone of the rest of the show – though obviously a comedy, Simpkin puts far more emphasis on this aspect than the much darker parts of the story. Slapstick is brought to the forefront throughout and the more serious moments are delivered with candy floss lightness.
The rest of the cast are as capable as Eggleton and Telfer. They keep up a good pace, are clear in their intentions, and communicate meaning effectively. Most of them multi-role and effectively distinguish their characters. However, Simpkin falls back on the offensive trope of giving the comedy characters regional accents and making them stupid – Watchman One and Two are incredibly thick and hail from the West Country. Additionally, it’s extremely disappointing that the cast of six is all white and speak in middle-class, Home Counties accents. For a nationally touring production, there’s no representation of the nation here.
Pastel bunting and plenty of fake flowers form a usefully generic set that is as cheerful and summery as the production tone. The costumes are an odd mix of Early Modern and steampunk for no discernible reason, especially given the joyfully anachronistic improvised lines that the cast pepper the more comedic moments with, and the inclusion of modern music. Contemporary dress would make more sense, but this a minor quibble. The strong performances are the highlight and make for a largely positive experience.
Much Ado About Nothing runs through 27 August then tours.
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