MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Shakespeare's Globe at the Master's Garden, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Perfect weather for a Much Ado matinée in the open air. The secluded, timeless garden tucked away in the medieval heart of Cambridge makes a seemly setting for this strange mixture of romcom and tragedy.
Max Webster's inventive production uses a simple wooden stage, with a kind of ancient gazebo behind. The costumes are a promiscuous blend of modern and periods from the 50s back to the 19th century.
The cast of eight actor/musicians doubles furiously to cover [almost] all the roles. Some delicious contrasts – Robert Pickavance is an imposing Leonato and a hilarious Ursula, Chris Starkie plays a sober Don John and a splendid Scottish Dogberry [flying goggles and duck-call], and our Beatrice [Emma Pallant] plays his sidekick neighbour Verges. Joy Richardson is kept especially busy, as both partners [Borachio and Margaret] in the bedroom deception, as well as taking the lines of the absent Antonio. She's the friar, too, and shares a stolen picnic cupcake with her Conrade.
The two couples on the very unsmooth path of true love are Sam Phillips as the suave, cool Claudio with Gemma Lawrence as his girlish Hero. Simon Bubb makes a very attractive Benedick, very amusing too, despite his tender years – something of a toyboy for Pallant's beautifully observed bluestocking Beatrice. Their “merry war” works wonderfully, leading up to the final wooing – handshake, sonnets and kisses.
Loads of bright ideas – the accused are wheeled in on sack-barrows – and I liked the Seville orange motif: the boy eats an orange, Benedick hides behind a crate of them, scattered colourfully across the stage at the climax of his gulling.
We've seen a washing line in that scene before; the twist here is that the linen is sopping wet from the tub, which is gleefully emptied over the concealed Beatrice – her very own ice bucket challenge.
John Barber's music is a particular strength, from the a cappella Sigh No More to the finale, with everyone [including stage management] on an instrument – Don Pedro [Jim Kitson] on lute, Leonato on trombone ...