Antic Disposition have done it again- breathed new life into a much-loved and performed play. I went to their performance at Gray’s Inn Hall, a wonderful setting for this updated production. It is a twentieth century period piece, this time we are in the small French village of Messina in the summer of 1945, the end of World War II. This is a clever device, as you have Benedick, Don Pedro, Claudo and Borachio as British soldiers, who having fought and helped to liberate France and are celebrating with the French citizens including Leonato. Some of the soldiers are also liaising with and wooing the French women, including Hero and Margaret. This all fits in very neatly with the original plot.
The cast is a brilliant company of Anglo- French actors. Some of the scene- setting dialogue is in French as well as some of the songs, which enhances the play rather than detracts from it. All actors are in character even before the play starts. In Gray’s Inn Hall, some seats are set out in cabaret style; around tables as if in a French cafe, with actors serving drinks ordered by the audience sitting at the cafe tables and lightly interacting with the audience as if it were a real cafe.
There is wonderful slapstick comedy – we witness the very funny double act between Dogberry, who in this version is the cafe owner, brilliantly played as a Basil Fawlty character by Louis Bernard and Verges, his Manuel, who is his waiter. Verges is played with convincing resignation by Scott Brooks, who is also an excellent accordion player. I enjoyed the witty verbal jousting between Nicholas Osmond as the sharp and arrogant Benedick, and Chiraz Aixch as the assertive and rapier-tongued Beatrice, who match each other measure for measure. The actors present such a natural performance of Shakespeare’s sixteenth century dialogue, that it feels colloquial and fresh. Much of this must be due to the directorial choices made by Antic Disposition, together with the skills of the cast. For example Tommy Burgess’ Borachio is credible as a cockney soldier because his every day, contemporary style of conversation makes it easier to understand the complexities of Shakespearian language and speech patterns. And of course, he is a good actor.
As is usual with Antic Disposition’s production, all the cast are multi-talented they all sing beautifully and most of them play musical instruments too which it is lovely. Antic Disposition’s Much Ado About Nothing is all very well executed and choreographed with superb comic timing from the whole cast. It’s also captivating and exciting, capturing the lazy, hazy, crazy hot summer days.
I was so absorbed by the play that I was genuinely shocked by Claudio’s condemnation of Hero at the altar, especially when Alexander Varey’s easily duped Claudio, pushes her away, followed by Chris Hespel’s Leonato, Hero’s father’s, denouncement of her. It was enthralling and appalling. I was as indignant as Beatrice was at the injustice of it all. I was also annoyed at how meekly Floriane Andersen’s Hero was resigned to her fate, although I accept she must have been in shock. As you can tell, the actors had me so completely immersed in their characters that I was invested in what happened as if they were real life events. Fortunately, as you should know, all’s well that ends well in this wonderful feel-good comedy.
Antic Disposition’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is at Gray’s Inn Hall from 17 August to 1 September 2018.