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Much Ado About Nothing - Darlington Theatre Players

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Reviewed by Paul Treasure.

 

One of the great joys of Shakespeare is that his plays are so universal they lend themselves to be interpreted and re-interpreted in numberless different ways. It can be a little daunting to come across a traditional production, which can very often hide a lack of imagination on the part of the director. There can be little doubt that with this latest production of Much Ado About Nothing from Darlington Theatre Players that this was not the case. Director Siobhan Vincent has given us a beautiful and timeless production, with clever wit and seemingly effortless comic timing that captures this gem of a play perfectly.


The set is deceptively simple. The playing space is surrounded by black drapes, in front of which are placed various odds and ends suggesting a garden, including actual trees. The action takes place in front of this tableau, apart from occasional actors entering to interact with what is in the set, rather than coming down to join the action. The lighting, rather than attempting to light the whole stage, is more concerned with lighting the action down the front, to the point where I don’t think there was a single moment where we saw the lighting hit any of the drapes up the back, This difference in lighting states actually made the actors glow and drew them more into focus, against the softer darker tones at the back. The whole effect left us to feel that this was a play taking place in an actual living and inhabited space. Jake Newby, as lighting designer, is to be commended on one of the most sophisticated design choices I have seen on a community stage in many years. The costumes, by Marjorie de Caux, Kathryn Wackett and their team, were beautiful and period appropriate. I am led to believe that all the costumes were made for this production, a serious undertaking, and one that paid off as it lent a wonderful consistency and believability to the characters.


With a cast of eighteen, it would be impossible to mention them all, but there wasn’t a noticeable weak link among them. Jeff Watkins, as Don Pedro, gave a very warm reading of this role. The choice to do him with a Scottish accent, was an interesting choice, until with the entrance of Shivas Lindsay as Don John, it became apparent that he had chosen the accent to match his onstage brother. This worked especially well as the coldness of Don John and the softness of Don Pedro were reflected perfectly by the slight differences in their accent. Mark Dyer (Leonato) and Julie Holmshaw (Antonia) gave very strong and nuanced portrayals, especially the scene where Hero is denounced, with Mark’s rage tempered with sadness and betrayal, and Julie’s concern and disbelief were evident and lent real emotion to this difficult scene.


Thomas McCracken (Claudio) and Rebecca Haywood (Hero) were a beautiful pairing, very touching in their scenes together, and genuinely heartbreaking in the scenes where their romance is temporarily shattered. The arrival of the watch in the second half of this play is a chance to up the comedic ante. Timothy Vincent as Doigberry was a delight, handling his difficult lines with ease, leaving us no doubt as to the humour between what he is trying to say and the actual words coming out of his mouth. Michael Hart as Verges gave us a masterclass in physical acting, his every movement drawing laughs from the audience.


Apparently, this is Andrew Govey’s first Shakespearean role, but his turn as Benedick gave no indication of this. He was very well aware of the humour inherent in his lines and his timing was perfect. The scene where he eavesdrops on the other characters talking about him was hilarious.


The evening, however, belonged to Jenny Howard. As good as the production was without her, it lifted even more every time she came onstage. Her Beatrice was fully rounded and totally believable. The sheer joy in her face, as she traded barbs and quips with the other actors, was palpable. Here was a woman who had made the decision to be content with her lot in life, but as soon as the glimmer of a possible future with Benedick showed its head, she played the confusion and the hope totally believably, while never losing her wit. Her delivery of the line “Kill Claudio” was as chilling as I have ever seen it done, righteous anger and vengeance personified. The choice to cast an actor with life experience for this role paid off well, as she understood and demonstrated the entire depth of this complex role.


With a number of Shakespearean productions on the horizon for Perth in the next couple of months, Siobhan Vincent has set the bar very high for the rest of them.

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing at Darlington Theatre Players. Image by Immaculate Photography

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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