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Brighton Year-Round 2020

Much Ado About Nothing

The One Fell Swoop Project Unlocked

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare, Comedy, Drama, Live Music, Scratch Performance, Theatre

Venue: St Anne’s Wells Park, The Sensory Garden

Festival: ,

Low Down

Directed by Joanna Rosenfeld allows much of the text in its near-three hour traversal with a crisply-observed 20 minute interval. Musicians Sorcha Harris, Alissandra Henderson, Katarina Henderson, Eden Wolfe-Naughton were joined by cast members under Seth Morgan’s direction for musical punctuations. Some props are deployed. Next performance Saturday August 15th at 18.00.


They’re back. And they’re hungry. The One Fell Swoop Project’s Zoom Shakespeare has zoomed out on to St Anne’s Wells Sensory Garden. In a word, Unlocked. Though modestly priced it’s also a charity event. There is though no gala about it. This is first-rate outdoor Shakespeare.

We left the OFS project with Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy on June 26th when director Conor Baum was needed elsewhere. But The Zoom traversal of all Shakespeare and apochrypha will recommence in September. Meanwhile company member Joanna Rosenfeld spearheaded a new August initiative Baum readily endorsed: she and Baum now alternate as directors and actors in a ‘micro-festival’, four outdoor productions of Shakespeare, the audience strictly distanced and with all amenities on hand.

We know which four, but no-one knows which one it’ll be on the night, till the last. Well, the actors know – just 24 hours earlier. They con their parts meet up and read through, everything’s fluid, and the spirit of OFS with its spontaneous leaps into abysms of inspiration is preserved. There’s an echo too of company friend Nicholas Quirke’s Festival Shakespeare which ran in the same space 2009-13.

So Much Ado About Nothing (will they do it online too?) from 1598 and directed by Rosenfeld is the first of the three festal comedies, the rawest, most edgy with the most dramatic love scene of the lot. It teeters on tragedy and indeed echoes Romeo and Juliet (in a false death) and more blissfully A Midsummer Night’s Dream (rude mechanical constables). It’s more plot-driven than its successors As You like It and Twelfth Night, more lean, more wit-led and on occasion more witty.

The corollary is a less rich and poetic meandering, characters sharply incised rather than endlessly fascinating, but there’s a more evenly matched couple – Shakespeare always preferred his heroines and perhaps regrets their lovers rarely seem remotely good enough for them.

Benedict is almost an exception in his ‘dear Lady Disdain, are you yet still living?’ as David Samson reinvents the velocity of Benedict’s speech, points it up beautifully, knows how to relax it and himself and shows everywhere how completely inside the role he is. This still with a script in his hand – like all the player who like him are often off the page too. There’s a mobility in Samson, a projection and clarity of emotion, and the way he and his not-intended intended size each other up, hesitate, lunge and fall back is winning and strikes deep into the role.

Samson’s superb with his peers, but his mettle is whetted against Grace Leeder’s Beatrice – and Leeder contrasts with a more seeming relaxed, controlling rhythm. Her Beatrice refuses to play at Benedict’s braggadocio pace. Leeder also deploys seriousness and on occasion darkness, toying in her deckchair with elder men and indeed the heart-stopping moment when a playful proposal from Seth Morgan’s Don Pedro. There’s several beats before she gives her answer: worlds open up for them both..

Leeder also conjures a greater emotional vulnerability to her role than normal – and Samson answers her. Most of all she can stop him with stillness. Her ‘Kill Claudio’ releases a flurry from Samson as he circles her, but this Beatrice is in deadly earnest. The way the two pace this climactic scene, using all the space of the garden, is mesmerising. When they kiss – and most kissing is done by them – an ASM elegantly standing by comically inserts a plastic film barrier between them. ‘Its your film I kiss and not your lips at all’ as they might have put it. Inevitably it’s a highpoint.

Kirsty Geddes’ Hero from the start is slinky and decidedly sexy. The way she provocatively drops a handkerchief so she stops to pick it up herself is downright saucy. Elsewhere she twists along with Leeder’s equivocal dancing star, and readily steals to bashful Claudio’s side, suggesting coupledom in the way they conspire with Don Pedro to get the other pair to admit their love – ‘the labours of Hercules’ as Morgan’s character puts it.

Geddes is first spirited outrage at her jilting in such vicious terms at the altar, red faced and not too bashful with it. Geddes is right to brighten up this rather thankless role and takes all the cue Shakespeare’s warm if demure part can give her. Like Claudio she’s young though here decidedly more worldly. She seems to need no lesson from Margerete. This makes her more palatable to a modern audience and if this wrenches sense a little – so does Shakespeare, the part’s not entirely consistent – I’d allow any casuistry to allow Hero’s actor to make her less drippy: here she’s not even damp.

Sam Cartwright’s rangy Claudio is all light elegance and an impressive mix of faint heart (someone else wins the fair lady for him) and little faith. Elsewhere out of this appalling breach Cartwright shows up Claudio’s affability and on occasion seriousness when he avers Benedict is deadly in his challenge. Cartwright manages an impressive look of sheer bemusement to deepen Claudio’s callowness.

Duncan Henderson’s Leonato is a delight. Henderson’s a fine Shakespearean and the way he pronounces Invention with emphasis on the ‘I’ shows he grasps period intonation. Henderson’s vigour and point even as an elder Leonato – it’s difficult to feel he should be so full of years, so vivid is he – is carried off in the way he hunkers down and suggests some enfeeblement.

Another actor whose voice and clarion air cuts through the evening is also Antonio (and Second watchman) Ross Gurney Randall, avuncular and apparently younger brother of Leonato. Gurney Randall’s four-square baritonal power suggest a sturdiness and latent vigour Henderson manages to suggest is lacking in the elder Leonato.

Hero’s gentlewomen Ursula (and Sexton) Sharon Drain enjoys an elegance and pointing with her expression and language – but also a sense of unease and horror at the way her lady’s treated.

Deborah Kearne the hapless lusty Margerite twitting Hero with sex but fancying the wrong man raunches her voice to underscore her earthiness (as well as enjoy more in the bushes). Her way with the variations of ‘come’ brought the leafy hose down.

Seth Morgan’s the musical arranger (guitar and bass, including Spanish material) and a choir for two nuptials, but as the above testifies, his Don Pedro is more than a cipher for melancholy. You can see how he contrives for others’ happiness knowing he’s unlikely to make a match for himself, despite Benedict’s late admonitions. Morgan also plays George Sealcoat, one of Dogberry’s crew who deviate into sense.

Roseanna Bini redefines the re-gendered Donna Joan, with a delicious drip of malice and the best suits out of the marriage scene, replete with sunglasses and leopard print. Bini conjures a a damaged imperiousness, dripping with envy and an inner emptiness as she flicks her way past long-suffering servants. Bini takes one of the water-squirting policeman as First Watchman too.

Chris Gates’ Conrade Donna Joan’s languid disdainful gentleman follower ‘under Saturn’ is at least Master Disdain – a fallen gentleman echoing his mistress’ despite yet unlike her capable of remorse.

Benjamin Darlington’s skirling performance as Borachio, Margerete’s seducer and traducer is another matter. High energy and like so many here with point and clarity he also dispatches the priest’s part, just as impressively – with the sense he holds a fine Shakespearean range in reserve.

Dogberry and the singing Balthazar (‘Sigh no more’) are taken by Conor Baum with a complete reinvention of what it means to be either the wondrous singer – Baum’s voice here is another showstopper, full of Jacobean dissonances – or Dogberry. Baum never overdoes it though his verbal felicities and strong Shakespearean grasp suggest why he helms the original project.

Dogberry’s sidekick Verges is rivetingly taken by Peta Taylor. Prior to the performance she’s inset on a bench where nobody heeds her. Just wait for their rope trick, trying out diagonals as her chief of Neighbourhood Watch instruct us in everything in a high-vis. Watch how these two trip each other up: a moment of physical farce that doesn’t so much transport you as tip you up.

The constabulary with water pistols ropes and farcical malapropisms also make each of these things clear, and the small ensemble – made up of those doubling larger parts – clarity itself, as well as funny. It’s easy to get lost in high farce. This production doesn’t allow it and we come out the richer for it.

Though the set’s an arrangement of chairs in the central aisle of the grass as distancing now places it, there’s much done with the two wends (alas the whole of the space is off limits) including hiding behind the shrubbery or miniature masonry arches, as well as tipping up lustfully in it.

Then there’s the costumes Though broadly contemporary the access of women in fuschia resembles what a seasoned critic off-duty suggested was ’Saturday night on West Street’ which exactly captures the barely contained energy of the women on wedding days; a hint of feral danger. The old-bronze masks too throw off a carnival jest.

The men in natty high collar white uniforms suggestion the navy also impress, and most of all Donna Joan’s outrageous snatch of entitlement. OFS’s famous for fleet traversals memorable for insights the company bring in short order. The direct comparisons are the earlier zoom OFS performances and perhaps presciently the Globe Read Not Dead series. This production easily rivals those, the across more than equal t tackling Shakespeare, an in several cases proving themselves fine Shakespeareans, or confirming it.

Musicians Sorcha Harris, Alissandra Henderson, Katarina Henderson, Eden Wolfe-Naughton were joined by cast members under Morgan’s fine direction for musical punctuations which beg the miraculous.

Rosenfeld’s direction allows most of the text room in its near-three hour traversal with a crisply-observed 20-minute interval. There’s no gimmickry, no high concept to fizzle out somewhere in the third act. Just clarity, truthfulness and trip-ups. A blissfully alive production. Next week Baum directs. Watch that grassy space.