Much Ado About Nothing at The Bear Pit Theatre, Rother Street, Stratford upon Avon
The performance starts before the lights go down as the stewards, who each have parts in the play, boisterously guide people to their seats. Their greetings set the tone for a warm, friendly adaptation of Shakespeare's perennial love story.
For my money, Much Ado About Nothing is psychologically a more complex and disturbing love story than Romeo and Juliet, for it mixes folly with fantasy and jealousy and spite alongside the dewy-eyed passion of romance. For all the play’s insistence on the establishment of marriage as a platform for happiness, one can’t help but notice that the marriages in this play get off to a pretty bad start.
Claudio, for example, is regarded as a generally good bloke for marrying Hero once he realises she isn’t tainted goods, but his earlier cruel dismissal of her, his petty justification of his honour, and the acceptance of this by all around him mark him out as a little more than a cheap gangster in a morally corrupt small-town environment.
Tom Pedley plays him as one not yet mature enough to know his own mind, which is about right. He doesn’t deserve Hero, an innocent victim, convincingly played by Lily Robson. His counterpart, Benedick, played by John Conod, on the other hand, is an older, more thoughtful character, whose revelation, that he actually desires the thing he denies, is plausible and well-pitched.
At the centre of the play is Beatrice, a stormy, difficult character, mercurial in temper, and capable of great determination once she knows what she wants. Stephanie Jepson treats the part with maturity that understands Beatrice’s contradictions. Jane Grafton play Leonata, the mayor, with a maternal affection for her daughter Hero is conflicted by a political awareness of the realities of her situation. Graham Tyrer is well cast as the evil Don John, an Iago-like figure who delights in causing harm for its own sake and who sets up the nasty little scam to discredit Hero. Georgina Wood plays Dogberry, the over-officious constable, as both annoying and funny, as she should be.
Amanda Laidler’s direction embraces a number of young actors from the Rogues and Vagabonds Theatre Company and places them alongside more experienced players from Second Thoughts Theatre Company. Together they delivered a coherent production that drew upon original music from Andrew Holton. It is a graduation much to be admired and bodes well for future productions.