Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, at Southsea Castle

by Sampad Sengupta

On a beautiful summer evening at Southsea Castle, on Wednesday, 3rd July, PGS Sixth Formers gave their audience something to remember with a brilliant rendition of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Superbly directed by Alex Quarrie-Jones and Josh Rampton, and cleverly edited, the play featured an ensemble cast who all played their part in a wonderful performance.

The directors created a contemporary setting, with mobile phones, designer suits and an eclectic soundtrack (co-ordinated by Ali Gray) . Instead of princes and aristocrats, we had corporate executives. Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon was now CEO of Globe Ltd, played by Rob Bendell as wisely benign while suggesting a steeliness that marked him in interesting contrast to his brother Don John who seemed touchingly vulnerable in this version (see below). Leonato, Governor of Messina, was now CEO of The Messina Group, played by Gregory Walton-Green, who conveyed a fussy fatherliness and anxious pride very affectingly. 

This production managed to combine Shakespeare's language and a modern setting seamlessly, making sixteenth century English sound extraordinarily timely and natural. The production made very good use of the exotic location of Southsea Castle; the battlements and stairs offered opportunities for plotting, spying and a range of nefarious and underhanded activities that help make the play so enjoyably complex. The toilet was used very effectively for the assignation scene between Margaret (Mirabel Mwizerwa) and Borachio (Josh Rampton), which seemed to be a homage to TitanicThere were some great special effects, too: rockets at the beginning signalling the war offstage that precedes the main action of the play, suggesting the darker tone underpinning the comic action. Fireworks also helped create a festive atmosphere during the party-scene, although they went slightly haywire, adding an extra level of edginess to this part of the performance that was perhaps not entirely intentional. 

Daisy Mellar and Aladdin Benali were both brilliant in their roles as the star-crossed lovers, Hero and Claudio, each particularly expressive in the dramatic Wedding Scene in which Claudio refuses to marry Hero, convinced she has been unfaithful, Aladdin convincing in his portrayal of a man switching swiftly from elation to despair to fury. There were outstanding performances from Tash Iliffe as Beatrice and Rishi Soneji as Benedick, whose witty exchanges are at the heart of the play, as they attempt to outwit and undermine one another until realising that they are actually in love. Tash was wonderfully sharp as Beatrice, delivering her most insulting lines with a waspish sting; meanwhile, Rishi elicited some of the best reactions from the audience, with splendidly elastic facial expressions and wonderfully comic use of body language, particularly in one scene on the battlements while he overhears other characters talking about Beatrice's love for him. Becky Turner as Don John, the “Bastard brother” of Don Pedro, conveyed a brooding, sometimes menacing quality, while showing a fragility and sense of hurt very movingly, suggesting someone affected by living in the shadow of a domineering brother (Rob Bendell's smooth but dictatorial Don Pedro); Becky made a villainous role complex and affecting, which speaks volumes for her acting.

There were no weak links in this production. Those in supporting roles put in memorable performances. Director Alex Quarrie-Jone was a superbly self-important, but confusedly dutiful Dogberry, ably supported by Rory McLean's thuggish Verges. Mirabel Mwizerwa made a lasting impression as the mischievous but naive Margaret Scarlett and Josh Rampton brought pathos to his performance as her partner-in-crime, Borachio. There was some expert scene stealing by George Cunningham as the messenger at the beginning of the play; meanwhile, Leon Tu, in a variety of non-speaking roles, proved a master of physical comedy. Natasha Morgan brought humanity and gravitas to her performance as Friar Francis, while Abigail Guy and Yasmin Caldera were excellent in their roles as Conrade and Ursula. 

All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a summer's evening. Directors, cast and crew deserve congratulations for a memorable performance. 

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