Brighton Fringe 2011
1960s decadent Italy, a mafia backdrop and Shakespeare’s much loved (and staged) comedy is brought to life by the Festival Shakspeare Company.
Claudio and Hero fall in love with each other and the plan, of course, is to get married, but evil Don John concocts a slanderous charge against Hero and thus the wedding plans lie in ruins, and there before family and fiends Hero falls into a dead faint, falsely accused of giving her attentions to another. Her family soon suspect slander and the pretence begins: Hero, they say, died from shock. Don John’s evil plan is soon exposed and Claudio falls into sad mourning of Hero’s death. But alls well that ends well and Hero is revealed to be alive and the marriage goes ahead as planned. The villain is caught and the confetti is needed after all!
And for this version, staged outdoors and brought by the perennial Festival Shakespeare Company, welcome to 1960s Italy – the peasants are revolting and the Mafia is on the up. Decadence blooms and surely it cannot last…Cue the moped. It’s Shakespeare time…
This is a charming production, virtuously quirky., and like a good Rosso, matures and gets better as the evening goes on. It’s never less than very good, and, by close of play, is outstanding.
Nicholas Quirke directs a uniformly (and in some cases, uniformed) cast. Chilly evenings are not ideal for outdoor Shakespeare. Rain is worse but warm evening sunsets are better. Chilly evenings require even more of the performers. If they fire up and sustain then an audience will meet them halfway, snuggle up and engage.
So how did the Festival Shakespeare Company do on this, a rather chilly Spring evening? They succeeded, and some. Russell Shaw and Robert Cohen stand out – Shaw is a five star intense comic actor who turns to seriousness with ease in the second half, and Cohen is an impressive villain. Simon Helyer plays Leonato with an endearing Bertie-Wooster-esqueness (iwith physical homage to Hugh Laurie’s legendary rendition). The music is enlivening, often deeply atmospheric, and Quirke’s unique flavour and style make for highly watchable and charming theatre.
Indeed, Quirke’s direction brings out not only the comedy in the original texts, but also in the talents of this very fine cast. There’s a consistency across the performances and it’s a sign of the professionalism here that Much Ado is able to keep adults and children engaged in the chilliness of a May evening.
The second half is more intense than the first and the lights pick out the actors better and delineate the scenes and set pieces more effectively. The drama is strong , the dialogue affecting. The comedy is often in temporary abeyance in Much Ado as the story unfolds and themes of deception and redemption are explored
Why do we jump so quickly to disbelieve those we claim to love? What are the consequences of misjudgement, of jealousy and scheming? This would be impressive indoor Shakespeare. But to achieve such rapt audience attention (children and dogs too were utterly captivated, not just adults) under minimal light in the fresh seaside air outdoors is an outstanding part of the whole venture.
The ingredients of success here: lovely filmic images, gorgeous music and dance, opulence in the chosen setting of Italian aristo-decadence, a uniformly impressive and talented cast, empowering and imaginative direction from Quirke that is never over-fussy and always allow simplicity to create direct contact with the audience and finally, an ability to deliver humour in a way that never chokes the narrative,and allows for a captivating, watchable story
This is, particularly in the second half, among the best outdoor Shakespeare I have seen in my life.