It was a sultry evening in Week 6 and walking into the Drama Barn was almost like intruding on a picnic on a summer’s day in Messina. A string quartet lulled quietly in the corner and a gentle murmur came from the happy picnickers, sipping wine and sharing gossip. In reality, it was DramaSoc’s performance of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Michael Oakley, an amiable and amusing interpretation of Shakespeare’s well-loved comedy.
Those in the audience who were familiar with the plot were waiting to see how Richard Souray and Ros Steele would portray the tempestuous relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, one of the pair of lovers in the play, and they were not disappointed. The chemistry between these star-crossed lovers was electric and their early skirmishes were well timed and extremely funny. Souray’s facial contortions and Steele’s haughty disdain changed quickly into looks of love once each character had been duped into believing that the other loved them. Their attempts at hiding behind the rose-arbour that adorned one side of the Drama Barn, coupled with Souray’s foray into the audience were the comic high-points of the play.
The camaraderie between Don Pedro, (Pranav Gondhia) Claudio (Chris Bennion) and Benedick was equally well orchestrated and the portrayal of these mischief seeking army officers was admirable. Their smart, white tunics were the most impressive amongst some of the slightly mismatched costumes that the other characters wore. However, once Benedick resolved himself to requite the love of Beatrice, the comic value in the alteration of his appearance was well exploited. Shakespeare’s indomitable villain, Don John was the picture of a man who felt despised by the world. Cliff Single did justice to a difficult role, and the few words that John the Bastard had were delivered with dripping malice. Unfortunately his side-kicks were not so adept and Shakespeare’s already complicated plot was not clearly advanced by dialogues between Borachio and Conrad.
As the plot thickened and the marriage between the other pair of lovers, Claudio and Hero (Lucy Saywood), the daughter of Leonato, was threatened, the tension was eased by the antics of the town watch. The second half opened to the off-stage whistle of Dogberry, Constable of Messina, (Mickey Armstrong) and in marched the motley crew that were eventually to apprehend the trouble makers and restore the reputation of the Lady Hero. Although Shakespeare’s clowns can always raise a smile, in these scenes it was the two watchmen, played by Imogen Hart and Becky Prestwich and Ralph Pallister as Neighbour Verges who stole the show from Dogberry, that master of the malapropism.
The production of the play was smooth and the crew used the space of the drama barn to good effect. Although the white curtain seemed to bear more importance for the actors than the audience, when an image of a woman was projected onto it during Claudio’s lament at Hero’s epitaph it did fulfil some purpose. The music, directed and composed by Izzie Davies, and expertly performed by a band of four musicians, ranged from a vibrant tango to a solemn hymn, sung by three of the cast. Michael Oakley did well to direct such a professional performance in only five weeks. The play brought welcome relief from exams and essays and at its conclusion the audience really were glad that ‘all things sorted so well.’