Mr Pernickety and his Lovely Companion didn’t dine out on Tuesday night. They ate early, at home – a good helping of Mr P’s favourite Ludlow sausage, the ‘Old English’ from CA Francis of Castle Square – before setting off for a performance of this year’s Bard Fest at the castle.
The prospects were good. Uncharacteristically for this wettest of Junes, the rain had held off most of the day. And the play, Much Ado About Nothing is being directed by Charlie Walker-Wise who produced such a splendid show last year in Twelfth Night, with John Challis (AKA Boycie) delivering a formidable Malvolio.
Ever a pair of wise virgins, Mr P and the LC carried in their battered old Barbours, but within the sturdy castle walls, it was a warmish evening, the clouds were high and unthreatening and the waxed jackets served as cushions.
As the audience come into the inner bailey, the simple, but versatile set by Anthony Lamble is peopled by members of the cast pottering about in the clothing and demeanour of Britain at the end of WW II. Land girls are lustily engaged in harvest, men in double-breasted suits eagerly await their soldiers’ return, the director having chosen to set it thus, rather than in Messina at the end of a 16th century war.
A traditionalist like Mr P has been inclined to lift eyebrows if not nostrils at ‘modern dress’ but he is coming round to the reality that more familiar clothing seems to make the 400 year old language more comprehensible, which, with a plot as convoluted as Much Ado’s, is not a bad thing.
Shakespeare’s comedies in any case are a bit of a puzzler, with all the ludicrous coming, goings and implausible confusions of a Whitehall Farce, or at best, an Ayckbourn rom-com, while in Much Ado the absurd misconceptions behind the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice – the ‘Why is he/she such an arse?’ when they both madly fancy one another is unreconstructed Mills & Boon.
But, as with all the Bard’s comedies, the iffiness of the plot is redeemed by the beauty and wit of the words – “Well, everyone can master a grief but he that has it.” – and Charlie W-W has made grand use of the text with the well cast, well rehearsed ensemble he has created. Especially strong is the spark between Mathew Douglas’s Benedick and Rachel Donovan’s Beatrice. He is played with great rambunctiousness , she with elegant acerbity.
Tim Woodward gives Leonato, Govenor of Messina strength and convincing gravitas, while the governor’s daughter, Hero shines in the hands of the lovely Ellie Beavan. Wayne Cater’s Dogberry is an unexpected comic treat – unexpected only because Mr P hadn’t seen the actor before. Cater lends a great Welsh flavour to the wonderful malapropisms that Shakespeare gives him, and exited to some well-deserved bursts of spontaneous applause.
The LC (who is Mr P’s best guide in the visual arts) demands high standards in design. On the evidence of her smiling face and fluting laughter, she enjoyed her evening and she strongly approved of designer Anthony Lamble’s costumes and the way he has placed the stairs leading cleverly to an exit through a window in the castle wall, and the large willow tree beside them to house the innumerable eavesdroppers the plot requires.
As the darkness (but not dampness) came, lighting designer Peter Harrison’s skills became more apparent – especially with the lighting inside a castle window to give the effect of a full moon over the proceedings below and intensifying the image of Francine Watson-Coleman’s terrifically choreographed and uplifting finale – a fitting way to finish Charlie W-W’s second great production at Ludlow.Read More...